Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian is like Voltaire’s Pangloss, or Eric Idle in Life of Brian. He always looks on the bright side of life, even life in Atlantic City, which has been in a downward spiral for years thanks to corrupt and incompetent public officials and casino executives.
In his State of the City speech this week, Guardian argued that A.C. could get back on the winning track by diversifying its economy instead of continuing to depend almost entirely on revenues from crumbling casino businesses. Fittingly, Guardian made his speech in the ballroom at Caesars, whose parent company had just filed for bankruptcy protection.
Smart people warned A.C. to diversify decades ago, to make it more “family-friendly” before casinos became legal in nearby states and drew away a large percentage of the gamblers. It didn’t happen. Four of 12 A.C. casinos went dark in 2014, throwing thousands of people out of work. Gaming revenues have shrunk to almost half of what they were eight years ago. You might say Guardian is planning radical surgery for a patient who has already been wheeled to the morgue — unless you look on the bright side.
Give the mayor credit for appreciating the absurd and for giving a good pep talk, even though he hit a sour note when he said, “At least we are not Detroit.” This was like saying we are not London during the plague years, or Dresden after the fire bombs.
Atlantic City is many times smaller than Detroit and should have been much easier to fix. It has a beach and a boardwalk and an ocean, and it once had legions of chumps journeying from far and wide to blow their money on games of chance. It was a test case for the argument that legalized gambling was a good way to jump-start depressed communities.
So much for that argument. Casinos care about casinos, not communities. When they can no longer plunder, they run.