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Gaming in Atlantic City..............
A History of Legal Gambling in New Jersey -
Part Eight -- By Stephen Piccolo

In March of 1987, the Showboat Hotel and Casino opened a 516 room hotel with a 60,000 sq.ft. casino on property just north of the Taj Mahal. The eight acre parcel of land had been leased from Resorts for 99 years at $6.4 million per year. Early on, the Showboat tried its “Las Vegas” strategy in Atlantic City, emphasizing a “family theme” at its property. It was the first and only property to have a bowling center included as part of the complex. The bowling center at Showboat’s Las Vegas property is highly successful, while the one in Atlantic City is not. The Showboat has sponsored a PBA (Professional Bowlers Association) tournament at it Las Vegas facility for many years and tried the same at the Atlantic City Showboat during the first few years after opening. For whatever reason, the PBA tournament was dropped in Atlantic City. The entire property’s marketing strategy was also changed due to the early financial difficulties and the family theme was dropped also. The change from family to the middle to upper middle gambler proved a success.

During it’s relative short history, the Showboat has had many “firsts” credited to it. They were the first to open a simulcast area in an Atlantic City casino, previously approved by the voters in 1990. They also were the first to offer poker in Jake’s Betting Parlor, an expanded - separate area opened away from the main casino. Keno was also offered in Jake’s, another Showboat first. Showboat also recently was the first to use funds allowed under the Casino Redevelopment Act to add an additional tower with over 300 rooms along with additional casino space. Showboat’s slot inventory now ranks third, just behind the Trump Plaza/World’s Fair casino and Trump’s other property, the Taj Mahal. All of these “firsts” have helped the Showboat become one of the more successful operators in Atlantic City.

The Atlantic City Showboat is not just friendly to gamblers, but chip collectors as well! The Showboat graciously offers the Atlantic City Chapter of the CC&GTCC it’s Mardi Gras showroom to hold their meetings every four to six weeks on a Sunday afternoon. They do not charge the organization and all they ask is that you obtain a slot/rating card and give them some business either before or after the meetings. Not too much to ask for such a fine meeting room as they supply to us. If you happen to be in Atlantic City during one of our meeting Sundays, which VP Russ Diaz announces right here in Gaming Times, stop in and say hi to many of your fellow chippers.

It wasn’t until the early 90's that the regulations softened on the casino industry allowing them to be more competitive with all the new jurisdictions now involved in gaming. Back in the late 70's when the legislation was written, there was Atlantic City and Nevada only! Things had changed but the state of New Jersey was lagging behind. Now it was catch-up time!

In November of 1990, the voters approved a constitutional amendment to permit the casinos in Atlantic City to offer simulcasts of horse racing. In July of 1991, the casinos got the approval to remain open for twenty-four hours on weekends and holidays on an experimental basis. One year later, the casinos got the approval to remain open for twenty-four hours - seven days a week. Now they were on equal terms with Nevada - they never close! Only sports betting has eluded the casinos in Atlantic City. In the early 90's, an effort to get a sports betting question to the voters never made it through the assembly. The same legislation also allows the CCC to authorize new games to be offered by the casinos without legislative approval. These and other changes have spurred a new interest in Atlantic City by major gaming companies and prompted the existing casinos to expand their properties by way of adding rooms, casino space, restaurants and other public areas. A new convention center, expanded airport and more rooms will hopefully change the image of Atlantic City from a “day trip” market to a “full destination resort.”

Atlantic City’s past could have been much brighter had all of the proposed casinos been built. Camelot, the Golden Pyramids, the Dunes, Carnival Club, Penthouse, the Ritz, Atlantic Land, Sahara, King Intl., Aquarius, Benihana, Lady Luck are just a few of the proposed casinos that were never built. Add to this list, the casinos that were planned or announced by those with properties already open in Atlantic City mentioned previously in this series. There would have been over 35,000 rooms and more than 50 casinos in Atlantic City had all the announced projects been built. A few of these started construction but ended at one point or another due to lack of funds.

Now, Atlantic City looks towards the future! Not since the early 80's have so many new projects been announced for Atlantic City. In the marina area, Mirage Resorts, Circus-Circus and Boyd Gaming plan to build three mega-resorts on a former landfill each with 2,000 rooms. MGM Grand intends to build a large scale property just north of the Showboat. Bally’s is building a Western Theme casino adjacent to Park Place. ITT and Planet Hollywood intend to build a 1000 room hotel on the site of the former Traymore Hotel, between the Sands and the boardwalk. Now that Sun Intl. has purchased Resorts, a name change is due, and look for the property to change drastically as Sun does not do things on a small scale. They have also been looking at property near the MGM site for a possible new complex as well. All of the other existing properties have already expanded, are building or plan to expand within the next year or two. A deal between Hard Rock and Donald Trump seems to have not materialized. The deal would have had the Castle become a Hard Rock Hotel - Casino with a dramatic new look. The eyesores are slowly disappearing, roads are being improved and a new convention center are also adding to the excitement of the “NEW ATLANTIC CITY.”

I hope this series of articles has been both informative and enjoyable for you to read. Beyond some of my memories of the early days, NO ONE can know all of this information off the top of their head. That’s where the research comes in to play. To give proper credit where credit is due, I will list the sources used for much of this series. All made for interesting reading.

  • The Boardwalk Jungle - Ovid Demaris - Bantam Books/April 1986.
  • The Atlantic City Gamble - George Sternlieb & James W. Hughes - Harvard University Press/1983.
  • Running Scared - The Life & Trecherous Times of Steve Wynn - John L. Smith - Barricade Books/1995.
  • Casino Player Magazine - Summer 1993 issue.
  • International Gaming & Wagering Business Magazine - Special Pull-out Section - June 15, 1993 issue.
  • Black’s Catalog of Atlantic City Chips & Tokens - Archie A. Black - 1994 edition
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