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


What Macau Can Learn from Las Vegas | Vegas Seven

In this week’s Green Felt , I consider how Las Vegas might just have a few lessons for Macau after all:

Once those architects began planning resorts, however, it became apparent that Asia was not Las Vegas, and that what worked so well here for the previous generation—large slot parlors with table-gaming cores—was not at all adaptable to conditions on the ground in China. So American operators—Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International—did the adapting, emphasizing baccarat while adjusting to a market where VIP play dwarfed the mass market.

via What Macau Can Learn from Las Vegas | Vegas Seven

There’s a line between trying to replicate what works in Las Vegas just because it works in Las Vegas and figuring out how to make things that worked in Las Vegas work in other areas. I think we are seeing companies navigating that line.


What Atlantic City Needs to Learn From Las Vegas | Vegas Seven

As an Atlantic  City native and an observer of the casino scene, I’ve gotten asked my opinion on what’s happening there. I’m glad to have the chance to write a column that summarizes how I feel. It’s a bit of a history lesson and a cautionary tale:

Atlantic City casinos prospered in those years because they were the only game not just in town, but in the entire eastern half of the country. Within five years of New Jersey voters approving gaming, nine hotel-casinos were in operation, drawing 19 million visitors to the formerly moribund seaside resort, employing 30,000 people, and pulling in more than $1 billion a year.

via What Atlantic City Needs to Learn From Las Vegas | Vegas Seven

I’ll probably do some more writing about Atlantic City–well, that’s as sure a bet as there is–but this is how I feel about it right now.


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


Atlantic City’s Last Great Hope? in Vegas Seven

I’ve got something besides today’s Green Felt Journal in today’s Vegas Seven: a look at Revel, Atlantic City’s latest casino:

Revel, Atlantic City’s first new casino in nearly a decade, has been called “Cosmopolitan East,” for its similarities, real and supposed to the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Like the Cosmo, it’s put a great deal of emphasis on its non-gaming amenities, and, like the Cosmo, it’s struggled on the casino floor. In June, Revel’s win per slot per day—a valuable metric of casino performance—was the lowest in the city.

via Atlantic City’s Last Great Hope? | Vegas Seven.

This week’s news about Revel seeking more credit only underlines the point that the casino is underperforming.


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.


Atlantic City double shot in Two Way Hard Three

In case you missed it, I’ve recently posted two Atlantic City-related pieces on Two Way Hard Three. The first is the complete text of my answers to questions Wayne Parry asked me about Atlantic City:

The AP’s Wayne Parry wrote an excellent article about Atlantic City’s rise and fall. He reached out to me for my thoughts, and I answered several of his questions. Obviously, with space constraints being what they are I figured most of what I said wouldn’t make it into the story, so I planned to post it here so I could share my thoughts with a broader audience. You can see many of the numbers I reference in my Atlantic City Gaming Revenue (pdf) report.

Here are his questions and my responses:

via Some thoughts on Atlantic City | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

Last week, I decided to gloat a little and revisit a past prediction I made about mini-casinos and Trump Marina:

Landry’s Inc. a Houston-based company that owns a full spread of restaurant chains and Downtown Las Vegas and Laughlin’s Golden Nuggets, has officially taken ownership of the now-former Trump Marina and will be putting about $100 million into renovating it. Meanwhile, a vaunted plan to allow “mini-casinos” has resulted in exactly zero construction to date. That’s exactly what anyone would have predicted when the mini-casino concept was first mooted, and it’s a good sign that some operators, at least, see some upside in the market.

Landry’s takeover just as predicted | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com

I mixed together some history and numbers stuff, which seems to be the way most of my work is going these days. Fun stuff. I still don’t see how the mini-casinos make sense if they cost more than full-sized casinos and have less revenue potential.

Finally, I had some fun this weekend and tried to answer the question Where should the Vegas Internet Mafia have its picnic?

I know I’m no Misnomer when it comes to the comedic stuff, but I figured it was worth a shot.

I promise that, later this week, I’ll be delivering something that is a) mostly serious (and harmless) and Vegas-related. It’s already in the works, but I want to take some time with it.


Landry’s Marina takeover talk in Two Way Hard Three

If you’ve missed it, I’ve got a post up at Two Way Hard Three that explains Landry’s purchase of Trump Marina and the return of the Golden Nugget to Atlantic City, with some bonus historical context:

Landry’s Inc. a Houston-based company that owns a full spread of restaurant chains and Downtown Las Vegas and Laughlin’s Golden Nuggets, has officially taken ownership of the now-former Trump Marina and will be putting about $100 million into renovating it. Meanwhile, a vaunted plan to allow "mini-casinos" has resulted in exactly zero construction to date. That’s exactly what anyone would have predicted when the mini-casino concept was first mooted, and it’s a good sign that some operators, at least, see some upside in the market.

via Landry’s Marina takeover just as predicted | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

Since I wrote it, I’ve seen two stories, one of which confirms something I said. Trump Plaza is potentially on the market, which I alluded to in the TWHT piece. Second, Hard Rock is apparently about to pull permits to build a $300 million mini-casino at Albany Avenue and the Boardwalk–right across from the site of the old Atlantic City High School.

I spent a lot of time in my TWHT piece talking about what a lousy idea that was, and I haven’t seen anything to convince me otherwise. When you can get 1,000 rooms and 2,000 slots in a totally renovated building for $138 million, why would you pay $300 million for one-quarter or less of a facility–200-500 rooms with about 510 slots? I ran the numbers and I just don’t see how it could possibly be profitable.

If anyone has an explanation, I’m willing to listen. It’s totally possible that I’m missing something here, but it’s also possible that I’m not. Back in 2007 there were a lot of smart people who thought Strip condos were a can’t-lose proposition, so I’m not so sure that, just because someone can borrow hundreds of millions of dollars they’re smart enough to spend it.


Atlantic City changes

Looks like change is in the air in Atlantic City. First off, Trump Marina is apparently going to change hands. As the Atlantic City Press reports, Landry’s Inc., which owns Golden Nuggets in Downtown Las Vegas and Laughlin, is planning to buy the property for $38 million and give it a through facelift, both inside and out. If the Press’s photo of a rendering is any guide, this will really revitalize the casino and add another must-see property to the Marina district.

I think there’s a lot that Landry’s can do with the Trump Marina. For one, they’ve got the marina right there, which is really a unique asset. I could see them doing something like The Tank at the property, and their seafood-based brands, like Chart House at the high end and plenty more at the lower end, are a natural fit.

The other big news is that the Atlantic City Hilton is officially for sale (again, courtesy of the Press). Anyone want to scrape together $30 million or so and put in a bid?

Looking at the chronology, I realized something. The property was known as the Golden Nugget for about 7 years (late 1980-1987), Bally’s Grand/The Grand (A Bally’s Casino Resort) for about 9 years, and the Atlantic City Hilton from 1996 to today, about 15 years. But it’s still “the Nugget” to me.

It seems like the market has really corrected in Atlantic City, and with bottom-of-the-market casinos now going in the $30-$40 million range and regulatory reform becoming a reality, we might see regional operators kicking the tires.

Anyone remember back in 2007, when the Casino Control Commission thought someone would pay $1 billion for the Tropicana? How times have changed.


A new hope for AC? in the Las Vegas Business Press

In this week’s Las Vegas Business Press, I share my thoughts about the just-passed Atlantic City casino regulatory reform:

After suffering its fourth consecutive year of declining casino revenues, Atlantic City might finally be feeling the winds of reform. But will a planned regulatory overhaul be too little, too late to save the city’s slumping gaming industry?

First, a look at where Atlantic City is today. After about 20 years (1986-2006) of steady growth at an annual rate of more than 4 percent, the city’s casino revenues began to nosedive in 2007 — a year before Nevada’s revenues started to slip. Although Nevada is on pace for a slight gain in revenues for 2010, Atlantic City suffered another nearly double-digit decline.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : Casino-rule reforms may offer Atlantic City hope.

The interesting thing is to look at Atlantic City’s historical growth. From 1978 to 1985, when the industry was adding casinos, there was incredible growth. After that, it was decent, just about outpacing inflation for the next twenty years. Table play, however, stagnated. Since 2007, both table and slot play have plunged.

So it’s a problem that goes beyond the recession and beyond the internal working of the state’s regulatory structure. By itself the reforms won’t save the city’s gaming industry, but they might be the first step in the right direction.