Plenty Of Hurdles Stand Between Atlantic City And The Phrase ‘Family Resort’

Written By David Danzis on August 9, 2023
bally's atlantic city skyline atlantic city

Another Atlantic City casino is barring anyone too young to gamble from using their pool while the local newspaper has a front-page story promoting the seaside town as a family-friendly destination.

This is Atlantic City in 2023.

Bally’s Atlantic City announced a policy change on Monday that, based on social media comments, many consider long overdue at casino resorts. Bally’s will only allow guests 21 years and older to use its pool and fitness center “due to customer demand.”

The casino at the corner of Boardwalk and Park Place joins a handful of other Atlantic City casinos that either outright prohibit or limit pool use by those under a certain age.

All while The Press of Atlantic City wondered if the city is becoming more family-friendly.

Bally’s Atlantic City far from only property with age restrictions for pool usage

All three of the AC casinos operated by Caesars Entertainment have age restrictions in place. The pools at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City are both off limits to anyone under 21. Two of the three pools at Tropicana Atlantic City are open to adults 21 and over; only the South Tower’s indoor pool allows children.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa has several pools. The main outdoor pool is a 21 and over only pool. Likewise for the indoor and outdoor pools at MGM Tower (formerly The Water Club). The indoor pool at Borgata has an adults-only swim for two hours in the morning before opening the area to guests of all ages at 9 a.m.

Resorts Casino Hotel recently renovated its pool and changed the hours to go along with it. The outdoor pool with a retractable roof is open to all guests. Adult swim is 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

Golden Nugget Atlantic City’s popular H20 pool is open to everyone, even the public. Non-hotel guests can pay a daily fee. The hot tubs are off limits to children at all times. From 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., no one under 16 is allowed at the pool.

The indoor/outdoor eclipse pool at Ocean Casino Resort is open to all hotel guests. A smaller pool with cabanas for patrons 21 and older is on the deck below the eclipse pool. The H2Q Boardwalk pool is a day club for adults 21 years old and up.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City has the only pool without any age restrictions.

Timing of local media story not the best

Just a few days before the Bally’s news, The Press of Atlantic City ran a piece with the headline, “Has Atlantic City become a family resort?” The story focused on the new Island Waterpark at Showboat Hotel Atlantic City and the soon-to-be-coming Dave & Buster’s as tangible steps toward diversifying the city’s offerings.

A good number of social media comments under that story suggested AC’s only newspaper might want to consider sending a reporter into the city every once in a while to get a better sense of just how family-friendly it is.

The juxtaposition of the policy change at the casino pool and the paper’s idyllic portrayal of the town is a perfect representation of AC’s biggest challenge — lack of identity. No one actually knows if Atlantic City is “Sin City By The Sea” or “Disney Down The Shore.” Is it even possible to be both at the same time?

One thing is for sure. The city isn’t knocking it out of the park on either front.

Atlantic City still struggling to rebound from 2020

The Atlantic City casino market has not grown the way industry experts predicted it should before the arrival of Hard Rock and Ocean in 2018. Rather than expand the overall market, the two new oceanfront casinos have grabbed revenue and profit share from the existing seven operators.

Unlike other domestic gambling jurisdictions, such as Las Vegas or Mississippi, or nearby competitors like Pennsylvania or Connecticut, AC has yet to fully rebound from 2020. Labor levels are still well below pre-pandemic levels, which restricts what amenities the casinos can offer to guests. Weekday closures of retail and restaurants due to short staffing are an ongoing problem at AC casinos, even during the peak summer season.

All told, NJ online casinos and online sports betting in NJ are the only gambling industry segments generating consistent, steady growth in NJ. As a result, the statewide gaming reports show a healthy industry but the majority of brick-and-mortar operators in AC have been feeling the pinch for years.

City has some clean-up to do if it wants to be ‘family-friendly’

Meanwhile, the city itself is not exactly endearing itself to families looking for a beach vacation.

Atlantic City has one of the nation’s highest violent crime rates, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report. The city leads all South Jersey municipalities in the total number of non-violent crimes reported.

The city’s laws allow open alcohol containers on the Boardwalk and designated Tourism District areas. NJ’s legalization of recreational cannabis has been an open invitation to smoke in public in AC, despite the law specifically outlining that such use was still illegal. A state-sanctioned clean syringe exchange program, frequented by dozens of intravenous needle users every day, is located in the heart of the Tourism District.

Not sure what the family-friendly promoters can do about that, but it’s a safe bet they can’t make it appealing to the Joneses.

Photo by Ted Shaffrey / AP Photo
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David Danzis

David Danzis is the lead writer for PlayNJ. He is a New Jersey native and honors graduate of Rutgers University. As a newspaper reporter for the New Jersey Herald and Press of Atlantic City, David earned statewide awards for his coverage of politics, government, education, sports, and business. Today, he is PlayNJ’s Atlantic City “insider” and gaming industry expert on casinos, sports betting, and online gambling. David lives in Atlantic County, NJ with his wife and two children.

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