The shadows of Atlantic City’s diminishing empire is haunting New Jersey as casinos close and thousands of inhabitants are left without salaries. The once booming resort destination, known for its dizzying neon lights and slot machines, has been slipping into a slump of unemployment and civil discontent in recent years, and its main gambling attractions have done little to prevent the increasingly dire circumstances.
While Chris Christie fraternized in Mexico a few weeks ago, citizens of New Jersey decried his lack of attention to the economic crisis in his own state as they begrudgingly filed for unemployment benefits. On Monday, Sep. 8 as a gesture of concern, Governor Christie held a summit to explore the future of Atlantic City. However, in a world where actions speak louder than words, a few empty lines about a new casino in Meadowlands seem less than promising.
But for some, hope may lie in an unexpected hero. Tucked inside the Trump Taj Mahal resides SCORES, an adult entertainment center that is stocked with the necessary liquor to make you forget that you can’t dance and chock full with 80-100 ballerinas, gymnasts, and Julliard attendees who swing around poles in the Distrikt, their tutus exchanged for tight corsets and vaults replaced by eager laps. Even the bathrooms, with their golden toilets, are full-fledged displays of opulence. So as casinos continue to declare bankruptcy–Showboat bid the Boardwalk adieu after 27 years of service on Sunday, Aug. 31, and the $2.6 billion dollar, 2-year-old casino Revel breathed its last sigh with $5 drinks on Tuesday, Sep. 2–Mark Yackow, General Manager of SCORES, is trying to save the day in a situation that may be beyond salvation.
“We’re getting inundated by applications by people who no longer have jobs,” Mr. Yackow told the Observer. “We’re going to screen these people and try to find the ones that best fit in our organization.”
Lately, approximately 5,000 residents have been forced out of their jobs as casinos close their doors, and when Trump Plaza makes its exit on Sep. 16 another several thousand will be in search of an occupation. Some inhabitants are considering early retirement or relocation to nearby states to work for the same casino competitors that put their original employers out of business, but most are scrambling to fill out job applications, hoping to be the fortunate few hired at one of the remaining eight casinos in the crumbling venue for vice. In SCORES’ sensuous salons, where things still run smoothly after opening last September to seemingly solid reviews, Mr. Yackow claimed that he has received over 1,000 employment inquiries in the past two weeks.
He explained Atlantic City’s turbulent transition from casino-polis to tourist trap; in his opinion, the local government is trying to create a family-friendly space with more PG attractions, hotels, and national and international conventions. While he’s optimistic about the coming years, he believes that it will take a while for Atlantic City to rise from the ashes and have a second life, and he understands that currently his home is falling apart.
“Right now, it’s not a good thing,” he said of Atlantic City’s evolving reputation. “There’s a lot of people out of jobs. I think that Atlantic City has to reinvent themselves.”
Though Mr. Yackow obviously can’t accommodate 1,000 new employees, he is seeking candidates to fill positions across the board, from managerial staff to bartenders. But while he is seemingly cool and composed about the recent shut-downs and says that business at SCORES has yet to be affected, he admitted that he has seen a change in traffic around town.
“I believe that the past year… Atlantic City has seen a downturn with all this negative press, all these places closing,” he said.
In fact, things aren’t sounding promising for the Trump Taj Mahal itself. With its sister casino closing later this month, it announced its own financial troubles in August, and sources are predicting its farewell as soon as November. So while Mr. Yackow might offer a lucky few a paycheck for a while, his hire is not the answer to all problems.
Despite its sparkly façade of strippers, cocktails, and cigars, Atlantic City is sitting in quicksand. Without drastic action, it may sink. Soon.