On Revel, New Jersey is all in

In the 1978 movie “Atlantic City,” Burt Lancaster plays a small-time gangster recalling the good-old days of the gambling mecca when rackets and whoring were widespread. After killing someone, he’d jump into the Atlantic Ocean, swim way out and come back feeling nice and clean, ready to start over.

This is part of a series from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

In the 1978 movie “Atlantic City,” Burt Lancaster plays a small-time gangster recalling the good-old days of the gambling mecca when rackets and whoring were widespread. After killing someone, he’d jump into the Atlantic Ocean, swim way out and come back feeling nice and clean, ready to start over.

The Revel casino, celebrating its soft-opening this week, is Atlantic City’s chance to start over. But is the $2.4 billion project a day late and a dollar short in pushing Atlantic City along the path of its western rival, Las Vegas?

For anyone paying attention, New Jersey’s gambling revenue peaked at $5.2 billion back in 2006. Since then, year-after-year decreases have dropped that number to $3.3 billion. The losses continue today, even as Nevada has figured out a way to bounce back from the recession. Over that time, Atlantic City also lost more than one-third of its casino jobs.

Even worse, Strip hotels in Las Vegas earn 50 percent or more of their revenue from non-gambling activities. Compare that with Atlantic City’s paltry 10 to 20 percent. Anyone with two eyes can see the effect local casinos in Philadelphia, Delaware, New York and Maryland have had on Atlantic City’s bottom line. The days of “Monopoly” and being an exclusive gambling destination are long gone.

No one has greater hopes in a turnaround than Governor Christie.

After establishing a state-controlled Atlantic City Tourism District (a good move, considering the corruption rampant for years in local Atlantic City governments), Christie went all in on completing the Revel project with $261 million in tax breaks over the next 20 years.

All this to stem the tide of losses to Trenton, which has had to deal with a $181 million decline in casino taxes over the past five years.

There is a lot to the risk-taking and a forward-thinking approach to Revel that I appreciate, including the casino’s modern design, its embrace of the ocean and the 100 percent smoke-free policy.

Revel’s soaring 47-story tower – now New Jersey’s second-tallest building – has completely remade Atlantic City’s horizon.

According to veteran radio personality Pinky Kravitz, Revel is exactly what Atlantic City needs. Let’s hope it really is a game-changer for Atlantic City, otherwise people gambling in Philadelphia will just wistfully remember the city by the ocean. After plunking quarter after quarter into a Pennsylvania slot machine, they’ll start to echo Burt Lancaster: “You should have seen Atlantic City back then.”

Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

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