Atlantic City Casinos

The Atlantic City casinos--- embodied the newfound belief that gaming had a more legitimate place in American life.

Throughout the country, revenue shortfalls, tax revolts, interest in economic revitalization, and greater tolerance for betting encouraged a number of states to reconsider restrictions against gambling.

A new role for gaming appeared first in the fragile Northeast where New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York inaugurated off-track betting. These states regarded legalized gambling as an expedient capable of generating something for nothing--- new government revenues for little political cost.

In New Jersey, casino gaming, portrayed as an alternative to a state income tax, as viewed as an integral source of funds for subsidies for the aged and handicapped. Moreover, it was seen as the key to recovery for moribund Atlantic City.

Once a thriving vacation spot tied by rail to East Coast population centers, the resort had long regulated gambling that would help to solve the problems of poverty, urban decay, and economic stagnation.

In contrast to restless western societies, where chance taking was an end in itself, gambling was a means to an end in New Jersey. In putting gambling at the service of the welfare state, New Jersey hoped to duplicate in Atlantic City the financial success of Las Vegas, but simultaneously tried to ensure that gaming remained less influential than it had become in Nevada.

Lawmakers authorized casinos solely in Atlantic City, the town that stood to profit most from legalization, and sought to regulate betting in order to safeguard the respectability of the 'wholesome family resort' that had inspired street names for the board game of 'Monopoly' and since 1921 hosted the annual Miss America beauty pageant.

Advocates of legal gaming presented local citizens with a vision of fathers placing harmless bets in casinos, mothers shopping along the Boardwalk, and children playing on the beaches.

To this end, controls placed upon the casino industry aimed to exclude undesirable patrons and unreliable businesses, attract the family and convention trade, and protect the tourist from himself.

Contrary to the relatively permissive policies of Nevada, New Jersey casinos were initially required to have an accompanying hotel of at least five hundred rooms; limit daily operation to eighteen hours on weekdays and twenty hours on weekends.

At the games, forbid tipping by players; restrict the amount of credit; prohibit service of alcohol at playing tables; accept nickel wagers in at least 5 percent of their slot machines; and minimize the amount of nudity in floor shows.

Such restrictions seemed to promise to keep Atlantic City life from being dominated by the atmosphere of gambling that prevailed Las Vegas.

Experience dashed the high expectations of those who intended to reduce the risks associated with casinos at the same time that they harnessed gaming to the needs of social programs.

In the early going, gambling could not bear the burden thrust upon it by the citizens of New Jersey.

Casinos found it difficult to start up profitably, organized crime seemed even more deeply rooted on the East Coast than it had in the Far West, and the payoff in revenue and welfare services materialized but slowly.