2018 Could Be A Make-Or-Break Year For Atlantic City’s Turnaround

"In 2018" written on chalkboard
Since hitting rock-bottom in 2014, Atlantic City is trying to cast off its recent woes and right the proverbial ship. 2017 saw plenty of progress made on that front, but 2018 will likely be the make or break year for the city and its ongoing efforts to reinvent itself.

Atlantic City has a new mayor; will see at least one new casino open its doors; and overhanging everything, the state’s sports betting case will be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States sometime in the first half of the year.

If everything goes to plan, Atlantic City’s ongoing efforts to morph into a vacation destination that offers top-notch gaming options rather than simply a gaming destination will continue.

Meet the new boss

Democrat Frank Gilliam won the mayor’s race over the incumbent, Republican Don Guardian, in November. Gilliam now takes the reins of the beleaguered city.

During his one-term as Atlantic City mayor, Guardian oversaw one of the bleakest periods in the city’s history.

During Guardian’s stewardship of the city:

  • Five Atlantic City casinos closed: Atlantic Club, Revel, Showboat, Trump Plaza, and Trump Taj Mahal.
  • The city’s finances and debt reached a point of no return, requiring Gov. Chris Christie to appoint an emergency manager.

But Guardian was also at the helm for the early stages of the city’s turnaround. Even though he will not be around to see his vision become a reality, he should get some of the credit. Especially if, as imany believe, Gilliam continues some of Guardian’s policies. For example, a widening of the city’s economic base with less reliance on gaming.

Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University told the AP more about the transition:

“Part of Don Guardian’s greatest legacy will be the fact that he believed in and worked for a diversification of the city’s economic base, and, as mayor, Frank Gilliam certainly will be able to reap some of the credit and benefits for projects initiated in the Guardian administration. Hopefully Mayor Gilliam will take a page from Mayor Guardian and continue the process of attracting a wide variety of businesses and enterprises to Atlantic City, which will only serve to strengthen the city and the region.”

Based on his public comments, Gilliam is on board.

According to Philly.com, Gilliam stated, “We’re going to be a business-friendly-orientated community, an employment-orientated community, a family-friendly-orientated community and, more importantly, we’re going to take care of our community.”

Say hello to Hard Rock AC

As much as civic leaders like Gilliam want to end the city’s reliance on gaming, the fortunes of Atlantic City are still tied to the casinos’ success. And there will be at least one new casino in 2018.

After a complete makeover, Hard Rock will reopen the former Trump Taj Mahal as the Hard Rock Atlantic City in June. The reopening will bring the total number of casinos in the city back up to eight. If the newly sold Revel opens on schedule, that number goes up to nine.

Most analysts and experts are confident the city can handle an eighth casino without too much of a negative effect on the current market.

Hard Rock will certainly cannibalize the existing casinos. However, with its $450 million renovation of the Taj Mahal, it should also grow the current base of casino patrons coming into Atlantic City.

However, if a ninth casino were to open, things could get pretty dicey for the city’s casino operators. Groups who have been investing mightily in their properties in recent years.

Sports betting

One way New Jersey casinos can attract new customers is with sports betting.

New Jersey is ground zero for the future of legalized sports betting in the United States.

Hoever, it’s not entirely clear what type of impact a positive Supreme Court decision will have on Atlantic City.

Sports betting as a whole is big business, but on a state-by-state basis it’s not going to be a revenue panacea.

Assuming New Jersey prevails in its case, the state will most likely enjoy a short period as a first-adopter. Its casinos will benefit from increased foot traffic and perhaps the national notoriety it receives from prevailing in the case.

These things, along with continued growth on the online gaming front, should propel Atlantic City’s gaming industry to its third-consecutive year of growth in 2018, despite the focus on non-gaming development.

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Steve Ruddock


Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.