ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (TheStreet) -- Underneath many Christmas trees this year will be the familiar box of the original Monopoly, the best-selling board game in the world.
The place names on that iconic game, where the players land with a roll of dice, are from the Atlantic City of 1934, in part because the streets of the real Atlantic City were named after states and oceans and were generic and memorable enough for a mass audience. Generations have grown up playing a Depression-era game making imaginary deals in a cartoon portrayal of a real place.
The place names in Monopoly are from Atlantic City, N.J., but the real world and game version have diverged radically since the game's first edition in 1934.
How do current, real-world economics compare with the fictionalized version dating back to the 1930s?
Not so well, actually.
In the game, you can own a railroad for a paltry $200. Off-board, Warren Buffet, our real world
, shelled out $26 billion to acquire Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad for
. That's an awful lot of silver thimbles and race cars.
The world of
Monopoly accomplishes something numerous politicians have failed to do over the years: establish a flat tax.
If you land on one of those penalty spots, most pay a straightforward $200 tax. The other option is to hand over 10% of your assets (including real estate holdings) to the bank. In reality, the sort of high roller who owns railroads and hotels would be in a 35% income tax bracket.
Monopoly's most notable links to the real world are the 22 color-coded streets players vie for, most named for actual avenues and neighborhoods.
In the years that passed since Monopoly was introduced, Atlantic City's heyday gave way to a much sadder economic state of affairs. In 1976, legislation sought to add shine with legalized gambling. Though casinos and hotels have economically propped up their small section of the city, there hasn't been much of a trickle-down effect.
To be sure, if you plunked down the real-world equivalent of a red hotel on Boardwalk or Park Place, you have done very well. Even though Atlantic City's casino business is considered to be stagnant, and even more dampened by the recession, these properties still racked up $3.9 billion in revenues last year.
Although casinos and hotels eat up much of the real estate in this area, expensive residential properties continue to anchor the waterfront. A nine-bedroom, 9,000-square-foot estate brokered by
carries a (recently reduced) price tag of $3.4 million. A listing at
features a nine-room row house condo with ocean views for $950,000. Less opulent condos listed are in the $350,000 range.
The healthy market in this sliver of the city belies the reality of the rest. Across the board (pun intended), the real estate market has taken a beating in Atlantic City.
According to real estate site
, the average listing price for homes for sale in Atlantic City was $254,870 for the week ending Dec. 15. The median sales price, however, September through November, was only $110,000 based on 45 home sales. Compared with the same period one year ago, this was a price decrease of 40.8%, or $75,750, and the number of home sales decreased 50%. There are 747 resale and new homes in Atlantic City listed on the site, including 305 homes in the preforeclosure, auction or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process.
Bottom line: Aspiring real estate moguls might not want to land on Oriental Avenue.
Ventor Avenue, a $260, middle-of-the-road property in Monopoly, deserves a little more respect from real-world home buyers. Its proximity to the waterfront may not put it in the Boardwalk category, but its location ups values. The former Illinois Avenue, a midrange property in Monopoly, doesn't hold up as well in modern-day Atlantic City. A four-bedroom home goes for a mere $119,000, according to a listing on
Some of the streets on the Monopoly board don't even exist anymore. St. Charles Place, a $140 property in the game, was sacrificed to make way for a parking lot and the Showboat casino. Illinois Avenue had a name change and is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Marvin Gardens is actually a misspelling of Marven Gardens, so-named for its bordering communities of Margate City and Ventnor City.
That flaw fades in significance compared with the story of the game's creation in 1934, the height of the Great Depression. That was when Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pa., approached executives at Parker Brothers with a prototype for what would become the modern Monopoly set. It was rejected, with executives citing "design errors."
Undaunted, the jobless Darrow joined forces with a printer friend and self-produced the game. After selling more than 5,000 sets at a Philadelphia department store, Darrow got the toy company executives to take his pitch more seriously. More than 275 million games have been sold worldwide,
, and there are dozens of versions, including branded editions for The Simpsons and a $2 million set with a 23-carat gold board and diamond-studded dice.
Darrow borrowed the Atlantic City setting of the game, by the way. In fact, he borrowed the whole thing -- it was a variation on several similar board games dating all the way back to 1903's
The Landlord's Game
, which was intended to
, not show children the way to gain their own.
-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
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