Lessons From the Fall of Atlantic City – Vegas Seven

In this week’s Green Felt Journal, I look at the death of my former workplace, the Trump Taj Mahal:

Even without the current Republican presidential candidate’s name on the building’s crest, the Taj is as perfect a symbol of Atlantic City’s quick decline as can be imagined. Opened in 1990 as the city’s largest, it kept its place on top of the casino win pile until the 2003 opening of the Borgata. The stilled casino’s minarets and gilded domes now give the sense of a dying empire.

Read more: Lessons From the Fall of Atlantic City – Vegas Seven

This was difficult to write.

Donald Trump, the Taj, & Atlantic City in The Washington Post

I’ve been asked what I think about the Taj closing. If you didn’t know, I worked there for about 3 years (1994/95, 1998, 2000) so this one literally hit close to home for me. I had the chance to write about it for the Washington Post’s Post Everything, so I did:

Behind the campaign-related headlines, though, the end of the Taj — a tragedy to its nearly 3,000 employees and an economic drag on an already struggling resort town — underscores the mistakes that too many, including Trump, have made in Atlantic City. Even when the city was the hottest gambling destination in the world, it never built a sustainable path from its past to a prosperous future. Trying to base your economy on gambling alone, it turns out, is a lot like gambling itself: The odds, long term, are….

Read more: Donald Trump wasn’t the only one who made a bad bet on Atlantic City – The Washington Post

I wrote this partially in response to a lot of media inquiries I’ve gotten. I’ve spoken to several reporters who wanted to know more about the Taj, but they usually were just interested in me saying negative things about Trump and the whole story. Several of them started from the idea that Trump was completely inept and hired inept people from the start. Mentioning that Dennis Gomes–president of the Taj when I started there–is as highly respected as anyone in the business didn’t fit that narrative. And that’s just one of many.

As I suggest, there’s a whole lot more blame to go around. I feel like I could have written a lot more on this, but as always there are space constraints.

On a personal note, I will say that my co-workers at the Taj helped me through some very difficult times, and I’m inestimably proud to have been part of that team.


bp_150The day has arrived: Boardwalk Playground, my latest book, is now available for purchase via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

This book started as a series of columns for Casino Connection magazine, and I have edited, updated, and supplemented those original columns to bring the story up to date. Unlike my earlier books, this one isn’t just about gambling or casinos–there are 124 years of non-casino history in Atlantic City that take up most of the book.

You can visit the Boardwalk Playground site to read more about the book, or just head over to Amazon, which will have more info and, hopefully soon, some customer reviews.

The book is also available for Kindle, and will be on other ebook platforms (iBook, Nook, Kobo) in a few months. This time, I’m trying out the Kindle Select program, which requires that the ebook be exclusive to Kindle. Once the Kindle version is well established, I will make it available on other platforms.

I’d like to thank everyone who got the book this far, particularly my Kickstarter backers. Thank you for helping me do what I love.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.