NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Bruce Springsteen was ahead of his time in predicting the plight of Atlantic City as it turned to gambling to fill an economic hole in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Now, amid the collapse of Atlantic City’s largest-ever casino project let’s hope the optimistic notes in Springsteen’s 1982 classic Atlantic City prove equally clairvoyant.
The second bankruptcy of the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City in June and its failure to find a buyer in court appears to be the turning-point moment where investors and legislators finally give up on the city’s gambling future.
Some are likening the collapse of Revel and the gambling market in Atlantic City to the downfall of Detroit, according to a Bloomberg article. Casinos across the city’s boardwalk hang in the balance, including the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino and the Showboat Atlantic City, TheDeal reported in July. For years, investors have also treated the city’s gambling market as "toxic."
In that sense Atlantic City, like Detroit, may need to start rethinking its future. Surely job losses will be fierce as casinos like Revel close and businesses feel the pressure of falling tourism. But was Atlantic City’s gambling economy ever really sustainable?
Many, like Bruce Springsteen, were skeptical of the city’s roll of the dice from the outset. In that sense, maybe the downfall of Atlantic City's gambling market may create a fresh start. Consider what gambling replaced.
Atlantic City was a booming resort town at the outset of the 20th century, attracting tourists by rail from large East Coast cities. The city was even a favorite vacation spot for wealthy robber barons. At its peak, Atlantic City's boardwalk was lined with architectural masterpieces such as the Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel and the Traymore Hotel.
The city suffered in the wake of World War II as travel by automobile and air went mainstream, allowing vacationers easy access to new regions. By the late 1960s some began lobbying for Atlantic City to adopt gambling as a way to bring tourists and their money back. Faced with a worsening economy, gambling was approved in 1976.
Hotels like the Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel and the Traymore were demolished to make way for Atlantic City’s nondescript concrete and glass gaming behemoths.
Those demolitions are captured vividly in Springsteen’s music video for Atlantic City, which opens with the razing of the Marlborough-Blenheim and then broods over the contrasts of the city’s Queen Anne-styled architecture and its formulaic new casinos.
Perhaps, as Springsteen implies, maybe it is now the casinos that have seen their day. Turning to gambling instead of revitalizing and reinvesting in the city’s history and architecture, in retrospect, appears to have been poor urban planning on Atlantic City’s part.
Everything dies baby that's a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.
-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York