It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since casino gaming first came to Atlantic City. The opening of Resorts casino in 1978 marked the first legal casino operation outside Nevada, introducing a whole new region of the country to casino entertainment. Today, Atlantic City has been transformed from a nearly deserted oceanfront town into the gaming mecca of the East Coast. This summer, the industry will gather to celebrate the city and help usher in a new era in Atlantic City’s storied gaming history.
Anyone who doubts the economic benefits of gaming or its power to change American communities for the better need only look to Atlantic City for proof of the tremendous impact the industry can have on a community’s infrastructure, economy, and, most importantly, its people.
Proponents of the Atlantic City casino project made big promises when voters were given the option to bring legalized casino gaming to the city back in 1976. They predicted an economic renaissance in which casinos would generate close to 34,000 new jobs, $844 million in new construction and $330 million in new wages by 1985. Voters approved the Casino Gambling Referendum with high hopes that the casino industry would revitalize Atlantic City and return the city to the grandeur and popularity it enjoyed during its heyday in the early 20th century.
Initially, casino tax revenue was redirected to other parts of the state instead of being reinvested in Atlantic City, but once that was corrected the local community began to see benefits that far exceeded expectations. More than 47,000 jobs were created, with an annual payroll close to $800 million. Casinos have also invested $3 billion in capital in the city. And, while planners originally promised casino tax revenue of $30 million, the actual tax revenue from the industry now exceeds $170 million annually.
Casino gaming also has helped Atlantic City become a leading tourist destination. There are now 11 casino resorts in the city attracting an estimated 32.4 million visitors each year. This summer, Boyd Gaming and MGM MIRAGE will open Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the first new gaming property to open in Atlantic City in 13 years. The property will boost the city’s hotel room inventory—a boon to a city that consistently sees occupancy rates hovering around 100 percent. Elsewhere in the city, other resorts are expanding and upgrading to add exciting new features. More hotel rooms and a greater variety of entertainment options are the ingredients necessary to attract more visitors who stay longer, bringing the Las Vegas mega-resort concept a step closer to the East Coast.
It is against this backdrop that we decided to shift the 15th annual Gaming Hall of Fame Charity Dinner and Induction Ceremony to Atlantic City this year, making it part of Borgata’s grand opening this summer. Scheduled for July 26, the Hall of Fame dinner will honor an industry leader and entertainer who have played significant roles in the development of the industry, including contributions to Atlantic City. This marks the first time the event will be held outside of Las Vegas.
There is no higher honor within our industry than induction into the Gaming Hall of Fame, and I can’t think of a better time for the dinner to come to Atlantic City. Gaming came to the East Coast thanks to the calculated risks of a few visionary individuals, and their gamble paid off. Atlantic City heralded further expansion throughout the United States, including in the Midwest and South. This event will allow us to celebrate the past and future of gaming in the Mid-Atlantic region.
But the Hall of Fame dinner won’t just be at a new time and place; it will have an entirely new look and feel. Guests will be able to take advantage of a wide range of activities planned for the grand opening weekend, including concerts, property tours and other special events. As many as 800 people are expected to attend.
As in past years, the dinner will raise money for the National Center for Responsible Gaming, the only national organization devoted exclusively to funding independent, peer-reviewed scientific research on pathological and youth gambling. In addition to the Hall of Fame inductions, the industry will present a special achievement award for outstanding contributions in responsible gaming.
I hope you will consider joining us for the Hall of Fame festivities in Atlantic City this July. The achievements of the past 25 years have resulted in a vibrant and growing community, and this event will give you an opportunity to be an eyewitness to history as we welcome the newest gem in the crown of the Queen of Resorts.