Good For The Game: Saving Atlantic City

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  • New Jersey voters rejecting casino expansion outside Atlantic City may save poker's east coast home.

For the media, it's always easy to focus on negativity and controversy. Writing about these things draws traffic, increases hits and can help a writer build a following. But the truth is, controversy and negativity are low hanging fruit for a columnist and I think it's time I personally reach for something higher.

In an effort to highlight positivity in the poker community, PokerNews now presents Good For The Game, a column that will look at the people, places and things in poker that are exactly that.

Last week, United States citizens headed to the polls to vote. One-time casino boss Donald Trump was elected president, but I'm not here to argue whether or not the president-elect will be good for poker. I think the jury is still out on that one.

Donald Trump in Nevada
Lead image courtesy of Flickr/Darron Birgenheier

I want to focus on one particular state and a ballot measure held there this year, but no, I'm not talking about Nevada voters deciding to legalize recreational marijuana use, although I think an argument could be made that that is certainly not bad for the game. The state I'm talking about is New Jersey, where voters decided against casino expansion outside of Atlantic City.

In fact, it was a resounding no, with 78 percent of voters rejecting the proposal to build two casino projects in North New Jersey at Jersey City and the Meadowlands Racetrack.

With the PokerNews Cup held at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City earlier this year, and PokerStars' live events team making its return to the United States after an almost-six-year absence at the Resorts Casino Hotel on the city's famous boardwalk two weeks ago, I've had the opportunity to dive into stories about poker's history on the Jersey shore.

Borgata

What I found was that the Atlantic City poker scene has a storied and illustrious past. Protecting its future is a measure I think is good for the game.

Although legal casinos started popping up in the late 1970s, the New Jersey State Legislature didn't make poker legal in Atlantic City until 1993, but it boomed from there. The Trump Taj Mahal opened a 50-table room that year and owned most of the market share until the Tropicana made it a two-horse race, entering the market with 40 tables.

Trump Taj Mahal

People still tell stories about the swings in the $2.50 pink-chip game at 'The Trop,' which played like the biggest in town, and of course, 'The Taj' was immortalized in poker's seminal film Rounders as the center of the poker Universe on the East Coast and the place where the sands turn to gold.

Rounders

Borgata came in a decade later and changed everything. The first true Las Vegas-style full-service property in Atlantic City drew crowds and immediately grabbed the attention of the local poker community, opening first with a 34-table room, despite the fact poker seemed to be on the decline at the time, then expanding it to 85 tables in 2006, with the poker boom in full effect.

Borgata was in on the early days of the World Poker Tour and continues to set attendance records for the tour to this day. In fact, Borgata remains the premier poker destination in Atlantic City and on the East Coast to this day.

Of course, the boardwalk properties aren't what they used to be. Earlier this year, the gold turned to sand again when a labor dispute forced the closure of the Trump Taj Mahal for good. The Tropicana poker room is half the size of what it once was and would be hard to describe as the center of action in the city, but there is hope for the future on the boardwalk.

Tropicana New Jersey
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/DrVenkman

Turnout for the first PokerStars Festival New Jersey at Resorts was lower than expected, but PokerStars is committed to the market and promising to come back with an improved marketing plan and the kind of prize pool guarantees the local market seems to flock to the next time they come around.

Upstart regional casinos and big players in the Northeast like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun may have splintered the market a little, but poker is still alive and well in America's Playground, which is why the vote against New Jersey casino expansion was so important for the game.

Clearly, more casinos being built in the state would splinter the market further and voters saying no to that proposition means the people of New Jersey don't want that. It sounds to me like they are committed to protecting Atlantic City's future, and although it's going to take some work to return the city to its glory days, no one is giving up on the possibility.

Because New Jersey voters rejected casino expansion outside of Atlantic City, it remains poker's home on the east coast, and all things considered, that's good for the game.

With the online poker and casino gaming market opening up this year, it's certainly an interesting time in New Jersey, but in Atlantic City, the future looks as bright as its storied past. Because New Jersey voters rejected casino expansion outside of Atlantic City, it remains poker's home on the east coast, and all things considered, that's good for the game.

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