11
Aug

New Book Coming & You Can Help!

A real book!

I have some exciting news to share: I have a new book coming out, and you can be a part of it.

If you’re familiar with my work, you may have seen my articles about Atlantic City history in Casino Connection magazine. Each month (for about 8 years), I wrote about an aspect of that city’s history—maybe the infamous Nucky Johnson, classic hotels like the Traymore and Marlborough-Blenheim, or casinos like the Tropicana and Playboy. That column gave me a chance to do some solid research on my hometown and, better yet, share it with readers.

This summer, with the support of Casino Connection publisher Roger Gros, I compiled my existing columns, updated them, and added several more. The result is one hundred stories about Atlantic City that together tell the story of the World’s Playground, from its 1854 founding right up to this summer. At a time when the city is at a crossroads, I thought everyone would be better off if they could better appreciate the city’s past.

The book is called Boardwalk Playground: The Making, Unmaking, & Remaking of Atlantic City, with a subtitle of “How the people of Atlantic City built a seaside paradise, lost it, rebuilt a casino town, mostly lost it, and kept on dreaming.”

So what does this have to do with you? First, I hope that you’ll enjoy reading the book once it is out. Second, I need a little help to get it published. I have all of the writing and layout work done, and am currently in need of professional proofreading and indexing. To defray the costs of both, I have launched a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise the money I need to pay professionals to do their best work.

I had such a great experience with my last book, Grandissimo, in part because of the Kickstarter campaign that got it off the ground, that I had to go this route again. My thanks again to everyone who made that a success.

If you’d like to visit check out the campaign—which is only running a short time—and see a video, visit my Boardwalk Playground Kickstarter page. If you’d like to learn more about the book and read a few excerpts, visit the Boardwalk Playground website. Thank you!

Support Boardwalk Playground

20
Jun

Trump comes to Atlantic City

Donald Trump’s first Atlantic City casino wasn’t wholly his own—it was a joint venture with Harrah’s, and was initially called “Harrah’s at Trump Plaza." 

For the full story of how Trump gained sole possession of that property and two other Atlantic City casinos, read Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling

Go here to read an excerpt from the book, or learn where to buy your copy.

18
Jun

Author David G. Schwartz summarizes chapter 12,…



Author David G. Schwartz summarizes chapter 12, “America’s Playground…Again: Atlantic city becomes the casino capital of the East,” of Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling (Casino Edition).

If you don’t see a video above, go here: http://youtu.be/UtsacolklS4


This chapter covers the development of casinos in Atlantic City. It starts with a brief recap of the city’s history through the 1960s, and discusses the trends that led to the successful 1976 referendum that approved casinos in the city.

From there, the chapter covers the development of New Jersey’s regulatory and licensing system, the first casino (Resorts International), and several other landmark casinos, including Caesars Boardwalk Regency, Bally’s, the Sands, the Golden Nugget, and Donald Trump’s three casinos. Finally, it talks about the last few years, taking the city from the excitement surrounding the opening of the Borgata in 2003 to the malaise and doubt surrounding Revel’s opening in 2012.

11
Mar

Holiday Inn goes gambling

In 1980, Holiday Inns, Inc, acquired Bill Harrah’s gambling empire—casinos in Lake Tahoe and Reno and a project in development in Atlantic City. 

Holiday tabled the Atlantic City project, putting the Harrah name on its own soon-to-open casino on the marina. That casino is today Harrah’s Atlantic City, one of the nicest casinos in town.

Learn more about Atlantic City in Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling

Go here to read an excerpt from the book, or learn where to buy your copy.

11
Feb

Three excerpts from Roll the Bones


Today I’ve added three excerpts from Roll the Bones to the site to give you a little flavor of the book if you haven’t picked up a copy already. Enjoy!

1. Author’s Note/Prologue

This is the introductory overview to the book, giving an idea of its scope—and the changes in the Casino Edition.

2. Why the Mob won Vegas

This excerpt, from chapter 10, “A Place in the Sun,” explains how the Mob carved out influence on the Las Vegas Strip in the 1950s and 1960s, and why it was so dominant.


3. The Rise of Atlantic City

The opening pages of chapter 12, “America’s Playground…Again” discuss the rebirth and rise to (brief) dominance of Atlantic City’s casinos in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

To learn where you can buy Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, please visit here

24
Aug

World War One and Atlantic City

In response to this photo and Bat-Signal request for more info, I wanted to post a link to an Atlantic City history column I’d written for Casino Connection a few (nine) years back. Turns out that it’s one of the 10 or so AC history pieces not in the Casino Connection archives.

Looking at the sixty or so articles I wrote for Casino Connection over the years, I think I have the core of a pretty good book. But some articles will need some revision, both for content and style.

So here is the entire article, which has the answer to the original question, “What is this?”…after the jump.

Continue reading

9
Aug

My Boardwalk Homecoming in Vegas Seven

I’ve got a very special Green Felt Journal out in today’s Vegas Seven. No, it’s not like a “very special episode” of Diff’rent Strokes or The Fact of Life that’s going to pontificate on a current social issue. Instead, I’m talking about the usual stuff I talk about in that space–gambling, casinos, and tourism–but in a much more personal way than I usually do. Here’s a snippet:

The Atlantic City I left was on the other side of history: a city left for dead, one that maybe, someday, might come back. Like Las Vegas, it blew up its past; some of my earliest memories were the implosions of the grand Boardwalk hotels. But this wasn’t replacing the Dunes with Bellagio. Old Atlantic City—the Traymore, the Marlborough-Blenheim, Million Dollar Pier—hadn’t been improved upon; gold had been replaced with concrete and red neon, when anything was built at all. Unlike Las Vegas, you never could shake the sense that you were one or two generations from the golden age.

via A Boardwalk Homecoming | Vegas Seven.

I usually don’t get that autobiographical, because there’s usually not that much of a need for me to put myself into the story. After all, it’s usually pretty straight-forward stuff–a personality profile, a sketch of a current issue–that calls for, at most, some editorial comment, but not much personal reflection.

So this is a different kind of writing for me, but for this story, it’s a path that I had to take. If it succeeds, it’s largely due to the unstinting support and fantastic sounding board of my editor, Greg Blake Miller.

On a more (literally) pedestrian note, I’ve also got some thoughts on Revel over on Two Way Hard Three. I liked the place, quite a bit, but there were a few things that left me scratching my head.

29
Jun

Book Review: The War at the Shore

Richard D. “Skip” Bronson with Andrew Meisler and A. M. Silver. The War at the Shore: Donald Trump, Steve Wynn, and the Epic War to Save Atlantic City. New York: Overland Press, 2012. 220 pages.

Many people are fascinated by the high-stakes world of casino development. Deals get announced that create thousands of jobs and bring in millions of dollars of revenue a month, or proposals to build casinos get tabled somewhere in the US every month or so. Skip Bronson, a real estate developer in his own right, worked alongside Steve Wynn for several years, first attempted to build a casino in Connecticut, then, as the title lets you know, battling Donald Trump for the right to do so in Atlantic City. In THE WAR AT THE SHORE, he takes the reader inside the Wynn war room and delivers several fascinating insights on how deals get done–and done away with.

In essence, this book looks at how Steve Wynn tried to build a Vegas-style mega-resort, which might have been called Le Jardin, on the H-Tract, where the Borgata is today. Donald Trump, Bally’s Arthur Goldberg, and others opposed him, both in the courts but also through less direct means, such as funding “community” opposition groups.

Bronson begins not at the beginning, but at a contentious community meeting in Atlantic City where he feared for his life. In general, Bronson doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of Atlantic City or its environs. Most residents are on the take or have their hands out, and he even complains about clams washing up on the beach in front of the South Cornwall Ave. house in Ventnor that he lived in part-time while chasing the deal. I’ve got some inside information here because I used to be a member of the Ventnor Beach Crew, the elite group of city employees charged with keeping the beach here, and I can say that dead clam stink, while it is an occasional problem, isn’t a chronic one, and it certainly shouldn’t spoil the pleasure of beachfront living just steps from the city’s only surfer’s beach and the storied Ventnor City Fishing Pier. While he singles out some locals for praise, particularly Mayor James Whelan, his overall sentiment seems to hover between disgust and contempt–which makes it easier to understand why things didn’t click with many in the community.

Community involvement was key to the Wynn/H-Tract deal because, as a condition for investing over a billion dollars, Wynn wanted improved access to the H-Tract. This involved building the thoroughfare now known as the Brigantine Connector, which indeed improved access to the Marina District, but whose construction demanded nine local residents sacrifice their homes (for which they’d receive twice “fair market value”). Clearly, it’s a difficult political position, and any hesitation on the part of locals was exacerbated by the full-court press Donald Trump, among others, employed, chiefly to stymie Wynn and prevent a potential rival.

Bronson does a great job of bringing to life the various characters he met and situations he found himself during the five years he tried to get Le Jardin built (1995-2000). He provides what I think is the best profile of Arthur Goldberg, former Bally’s/Park Place Entertainment CEO, in print today, and we even get to see the “Mirage Volcano” erupt a few times (even scarier, he says, is when Steve Wynn speaks with complete calm to those who’ve let him down).

I need to point out, though, that there are several errors in the book that pulled me out of the story. Some are relatively minor, like referring to Mickey Brown as the head of the “New Jersey Gaming Commission” (a body whose existence is a mystery to me), when he actually helmed the Division of Gaming Enforcement. Others reflect the fact that this book was apparently written a while ago: Foxwoods is labeled “the largest, most profitable casino in the world” (Venetian Macao has had that honor for five years now) and the book ends on a happy note with MGM MIRAGE about to build the $5 billion MGM Atlantic City on the land where Le Jardin once might have been. That project was announced in 2007, tabled in 2008, and killed in 2010 when MGM Resorts effectively surrendered its NJ gaming license rather than cut ties with Pansy Ho, its Macau partner. Ditto for the reference to Atlantic City as “America’s fastest-growing city.” It seems that much of this book was written five years ago and not strenuously revised before publication.

So it’s a good book, but it’s only as good as the recollections of the principals, and there are some areas where standard fact-checking and updating would have given the manuscript more immediacy.

The need for a current assessment is nowhere clearer than in the wrap up, in which Bronson says that, in the end, the War at the Shore ended in “a triumph for all involved.” Bronson got to say he’d turned a former dump into land valued at $400 million, Trump kept out a competitor, and Atlantic City got the Borgata.

I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. In fact, I’d argue that the War at the Shore might have been the beginning of the end for Atlantic City, and had ripple effects throughout the gaming industry that can’t be underestimated. Let’s imagine that Trump doesn’t try to block Wynn, and instead retaliated by selling Trump Plaza and putting the proceeds into renovating Trump Marina into something that could rival Wynn, or sold the Marina and the Plaza to turn the Taj into a true mega-resort. Park Place also doubled down on its properties, starting expansion programs like what Harrah’s did with Harrah’s and Aztar started with the Tropicana (under Dennis Gomes, incidentally). Wynn breaks ground on Le Jardin in 1996; it opens in 1999 as something like the Bellagio. This pushes back Beau Rivage a few years, and by 2000 Mirage Resorts is getting enough cash from its AC operation that its stock price is considerably higher: no MGM buyout. Circus Circus Enterprises opens “Mandalay East” in early 2000, and Boyd’s Borgata comes online soon after.

Under this scenario, Atlantic City now has as many as a half-dozen destination resorts and is able to do what the Strip did in the early 2000s. Maybe you’ve got a season of MTV’s Real World filmed at Borgata, or Ocean’s 12 is set in Atlantic City. There’s a real turnaround in public perception, and Atlantic City, now established as a true rival to Las Vegas, is able to weather “competition” from Pennsylvania slot parlors later in the decade.

Maybe MGM never acquires Mirage Resorts. After finishing Le Jardin, Wynn build Beau Rivage, then starts planning for Macau. MGM maybe picks up the Desert Inn (again) and develops CityCenter there. Whatever the impact on the rest of the industry, though, it’s hard to argue that Atlantic City is better off with the cards it was dealt thanks to Trump et al’s obstruction of the H-Tract’s development.

In any event, WAR AT THE SHORE is a great look inside why Wynn left Atlantic City the second time, and provides a good perspective in general on the political and deal-making (not design) side of casino development.

 

29
Jun

Steel Pier history from the archives

Writing a Two Way Hard Three post about today’s announcement about the possible sale of Steel Pier, I wanted to link to an Atlantic City history column I dimly remembered having written years earlier. Since the issue of Casino Connection it originally ran in (May 2004) isn’t available online, I’m going to reproduce it here as a resource for others:

Continue reading

24
Jun

Book Review: The Jersey Shore

Jen A. Miller. The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May. Second Edition. Woodstock, Vermont: The Countryman Press, 2011. 207 pages.

The phrase “Jersey Shore” is heard a lot these days, but mostly for the wrong reasons–shorthand for the kind of low-class self-indulgent behavior that will land you a gig on an MTV reality show or hosting a Vegas nightclub. With this book, Jen A. Miller reminds us that the real Jersey Shore is actually a pretty fun section of the Atlantic shoreline for vacations for people of all ages.

The book’s amply illustrated in color, with both historical and present-day photographs. The frontispiece is a great shot of the Trump Taj Mahal and Steel Pier just after dawn. There are also plenty of maps, something that’s helpful even in the age of GPS–it’s nice to be able to get your bearings while reading about the sights.

THE JERSEY SHORE is organized into six chapters, covering Atlantic City and Brigantine/Downbeach; Ocean City, also including Somers Point; Sea Isle City, with Strathmere; Avalon and Stone Harbor; The Wildwoods; and Cape May. Each has plenty of information about the highlights in lodging, dining, shopping, nightlife, and beach-going.

It’s obvious that Miller has a deep love for the area she’s guiding the reader through: at several points in the book, she shares her own Jersey shore stories, going back to her childhood, which helps the reader understand Miller’s depth of knowledge and appreciate where she’s coming from. This isn’t someone who got handed an assignment, did some Google Fu, and tuned in a manuscript; the Jersey Shore has been a big part of Miller’s life for years. That makes for a friendly, conversational guidebook that will point readers to many of the area’s gems.

The best part about this guide is that it makes the South Jersey Shore, which is a bit un-user-friendly, accessible to anyone. Because it doesn’t have the same level of visitation as Vegas, there are far fewer places to get good information about the area’s amenities for tourists. THE JERSEY SHORE provides plenty of advice on where to stay–even how to best contact realtors for towns where house rentals make more sense than motels or hotels–and every other aspect of a vacation down the shore. There are even very helpful itineraries for each city, and plenty of options for people in every age range.

If you want to spend some time down the shore this summer and don’t have decades of family tradition and insider knowledge to draw on, THE JERSEY SHORE will make you feel like an old-timer.