Can Sports Gambling Save Atlantic City?

Dan BooneSenior Analyst IFebruary 19, 2009


"Yes, it used to be beautifulwhat with the rackets, whoring, guns."

Burt Lancaster as Lou Pascal in Atlantic City

Atlantic City is on the ropes in this wicked, whirlwind economy. A perfect storm of troubles has hit its rocky shores like a terrible tsunami.

Pennslyvania's legalized slots cut the legs—the legs being mostly senior citizens ones on buses—out of Atlantic City's prized slots business.

The New Jersey Smoking Ban angered a portion of Atlantic City's customers. Especially since Pennsylvania allowed smoking in its parlors.

Casinos in Delaware and on Native American reservations in surrounding states have hit the Atlantic City casinos with more body-blows. 

Maryland recently legalized slots—another vicious left hook to the Atlantic City liver. Pennsylvania has two more giant slot parlors looming, one at Philadelphia Racetrack, which will effectively cut more travelers off on the road to Atlantic City.

Pennsylvania is pushing for table games, while West Virginia already has them. Atlantic City has a sad-eyed General Custer at the Little Big Horn air about it.

Surrounded, that is, and there ain't no cavalry bugles sounding sweet on the far horizon.

Six of eleven Atlantic City Casinos are either in or about to enter bankruptcy. All the main new casino projects have been cancelled. The gaming revenue is way down and that revenue is a key element in New Jersey's bare coffers.

Like the rest of the country, massive layoffs have struck the casinos, and the city, hard. Folks do not have the extra cash to drop at the tables or slots, and if they do they do not want to drive hours in heavy traffic to do it.

So what can the city do?

One option is to downsize, retreat, and revert back to the slightly seedy, less glamorous hotels that populated Atlantic City before gambling. They can take the Darwin approach and let the survival of the fittest slim down the area by desperately trying to generate just enough income so only four or five smaller casinos survive.

Or they can roll the dice, ignore the NFL's threats, and insert sports gambling which would be a quick move outside the box. Las Vegas, itself struggling badly, is currently the only place to bet sports legally in the US.

It's the height of American hypocrisy that politicians, lawyers, bankers, and brokers are allowed to make nation-changing, wild, often bad, bets on everyone's future, but a citizen can not legally bet twenty bucks on a Chicago Bears football game.

But as Bitter old Bierce once said of America's twisted Puritan morals, The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.

Some will say most people would bet with their bookies or in the islands, anyway.

But its tougher to wire money to the islands these days and many folks do not entirely trust doing that.

Another factor is the Stanford Group Bank crisis which threatens to undermine not only the banks, but the entire government of Antigua, the island where most Internet bets are filtered to.

Sir J Allen Stanford, a Texas Knight slash Banker, is missing and around $8 billion or so is gone also. The Stanford domino effect will not only undermine Antigua, but could cause numerous banks, and perhaps even some governments, in Latin America and the Caribbean to collapse.

This is not exactly a banner time to promote island-based Internet gambling. The crisis, and the press, is only going to get worse, perhaps much, much worse, for that contingent and its host countries.

So why doesn't Atlantic City roll them old bones, take a chance, and put in the sports books?

Sure the sports book will not make up all the revenue lost in this ugly recession, but any successful method used to stop the dire bleeding is a good method.

Desperate times, the old saying goes, call for desperate measures. And sports gambling isn't really a desperate measure. No, a desperate measure would be to go hunt down Sir J Allen and deliver him to the Russians or the Mexican cartel he stiffed. sports gambling is the logical thing to do.

Alas, Atlantic City, like this country, always ran more on graft and greed then logic.

But the machine is broken and things have to change in the machine or the machine will be no more. The machine needs to be fixed or reinvented.

Sports gambling isn't reinventing the wheel—it's done around the world, but it might give the old wheel some desperately needed grease. Atlantic City has also managed to reinvent itself.

And remember the slot parlors do not have storied histories, boardwalks, or beaches—or Bruce Springsteen songs.

Well now, everything dies, baby, that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic city

Of course, if all else fails, Atlantic City can always go pirating for the lovely banker head of Sir J Allen Stanford. Desperate diseases call for desperate cures.

And, its said, some wicked souls will pay well for that rich head.

I'm not sure if gibbeting life-destroying, thieving bankers is legal in Houston, but I know it is in Juarez, and soon, perhaps, in parts of Atlantic City and points west.

“Diseases desperate grown

By desperate appliances are relieved,

Or not at all.”

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