Friday, June 19, 2015

The Rapid Reinvention of Atlantic City

Image result for atlantic city beaches
by Ryan Rydzewski, Jenna Giovinco and Amy Carranza, 
Special Correspondents 

As casinos close and thousands of jobs are lost, Atlantic City isn’t in as bad shape as we think, is it? Local and national news is flooded with the numbers of businesses closing, jobs lost and crimes being committed in Atlantic City.  But can this town that has reinvented itself in the past do it one more time?

David Zuba, publicist at the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, had a strong opinion regarding this issue. “Despite what the main stream media is talking about, there is significant investment going on here in Atlantic City.” 

 The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) is a unique organization that has reinvested over $1.5 billion in Atlantic City alone since it’s inception in 1984. CRDA is funded through casino gambling revenues and has been ever since the State of New Jersey gave the casino industry a choice -- pay 2.5% of gambling revenues to the state, or reinvest 1.25% of gambling revenues back into the community.

The decision was an easy one, and now CRDA has reinvested around $2 billion in AC and the surrounding area. 

 “Atlantic City is in a special time. Billions of dollars are continuously being invested in the city,” said Zuba. 

Some of the biggest projects in the works are the Bass Pro Shops, which opened in April of this year, Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center and several casino restorations. Many in the area had heard about the Bass Pro Shops coming to town, but after speaking with CRDA, it was clear that the Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center is one of their biggest accomplishments yet. 

“There is a $16 billion corporate meetings market in the Northeast and Atlantic City is only tapping in for about 1% of that right now,” Zuba stated in a recent interview

 The new Conference Center will work in conjunction with the Convention Center and will bring millions of professionals to the city, along with millions of dollars. 

Zuba and the rest of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority work around the clock to hopes of reinventing Atlantic City. He made it clear there is a lot to offer to families, as well as couples. The Walk and The Pier have made AC a shopping destination as well as a fairly large tourist attraction on the East Coast. 

Many famous chefs have held residency within the restaurants both in the casinos as well as the surrounding area. Shows and nightlife light up the town throughout the week and are major attractions to the younger crowd come on weekends. 

Don't forget the only free beaches in South Jersey, which stretch the length of the city and attract thousands of people during the summer months. 

“Atlantic City is more than just gambling, it is a destination, and we are working hard to bring more to the city and to reinvent the image Atlantic City has held for so long,” said Zuba.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Needed Now More Than Ever, The Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City Continues the Good Fight

by Morgan Appleyard, Courtney Keenan and Lauren Ivancich
Special Correspondents

When most view Atlantic City all eyes are gazing on the depths of the multitude casino buildings that cover the city’s skyline, but what is below Atlantic City's skyline? The city that so highly reflects nightlife has placed a major crutch on its youth. These images along with the hype of the media have over time portrayed this city as dangerous with crime being a dominant factor. Does the youth in this highly depicted nightlife scenery city even stand a fighting chance? Finding a solution for the youth may lead to a dead end but, The Boys & Girls Club of AC hasn't lost hope for the children and has taken on the challenge for over 40 years.
In AC there are not a great deal of activities for the youth, so fortunately there are people in the community attempting to change this. The Boys & Girls Club works with different organizations around the area in order to help youth get off the streets. This national organization began with just one woman who wanted to see troubled kids get off the street. This woman, over 100 years ago, started this well-known organization by planting a garden and getting the kids involved which then soon flourished into what is now known as the Boys & Girls Club.
The Boys & Girls Club of AC located on N. Pennsylvania Avenue take in kids around the surrounding area starting as young as five years-old all the way up to the age of eighteen. This club tries to teach the children partaking in the programs to become confident in themselves and to know who they are. Joyce Tilton, the program director of the Boys & Girls Club of AC, explained that the club is all about the life skills, and building the child within, "building the self-esteem, learning how to resolve a conflict, learning how to eat right. Participating in healthy lifestyles that you need to become a productive citizen in society" which, is a part of the clubs mission statement as well as what they really try to focus on.
The clubs attendance expanded quickly and had well over 200-300 children a day during various times to the point where they outgrew their finances causing them to shut down their Chelsea Unit located on Sovereign Avenue. This growth also resulted in the Pennsylvania Unit to close its doors. Luckily the Pennsylvania Unit got back on their feet the summer of 2014, but the Chelsea Unit has yet to reopen.
"It’s been a tough couple of years for all of us," Tilton stated, “because we knew we were outgrowing our finances."
With the help of National coming in to help the club of AC raise funds along with Milton & Betty Katz Jewish Community Center, JCC,  donating a huge check as well as any other grants the club then obtained the financial needs to reopen. The youth was then given another chance at surviving with the Pennsylvania Unit now back up and running.
The Boys & Girls Club of AC has done a tremendous job in providing for the youth of AC, but the crime in this vibrant city still plays a minute role, or does it? On the other end of town, out of reach to the Boys & Girls Club, is plagued with a lot of gangs, and depending on which part of town you are located in will almost determine if you stay off the streets or become lost with other gang related members.
"DO AC" is Atlantic City's promotion logo for tourist to explore, view events, and or plan a stay in one of its many casinos. On the Atlantic City's main website they state, "Atlantic City provide days of endless entertainment." The site then proceeds to tell viewers how there is "plenty of family-friendly fun suitable for both children and adults," but never state what suitable things they offer for children. Below this statement the site list a few suggestions; beaches & boardwalk, attractions, arts & culture, shopping, sports & outdoors, spas, casinos, dining, and of course nightlife. Out of these suggestions almost all are for "adult fun," but a select few are offered for "children fun" and only provided during the day, but what else do they have?
With the lack of entertainment for the young ones amongst the city, crime within the different neighborhoods has an effect on the youths outcome, mainly resulting in two options; join an after school program or worse case join a gang. Tilton sadly stated, “There is very little for the kids to do in the city. What there is an Imax theater which is so unaffordable you barely get to go." She said that there used to be a bowling alley in the casino, but they took that out. Tilton would love to see more come into the city for the children, but can't say that’s the cities responsibility, "I believe it’s getting beyond the media hype." Crime although she realizes has an effect on the city itself she claimed that she doesn't feel uncomfortable walking out the club doors late at night.
“Power is perception," Tom Forkin, the director of the AC Surf & SUP School, commented on the so-called crime of AC, "media perception, every city has crime." He believes that there is more than meets the eye, and a lot of it has to do with the way the media portrays AC. Forkin who was born and raised in Atlantic City and is a teacher at New York Avenue School, gives back to his city in more ways than one. The AC Surf School provides not only free lesson to the community, only charging tourist, but to The Boys & Girls Club as well.
The AC Surf & SUP School is the original and the premier surfing organization in Atlantic City and its surrounding areas. The AC Surf School offers a surfing program for everyone's needs at any level. Forkin, who believes in giving back to the youth of AC said, "It’s all about the kids." In the summer months, mainly July and August, Forkin and his team of instructors offer their services two days a week to the Boys & Girls Club free of charge. They begin each lesson by showing an ocean tutorial and then an ocean safety tutorial which teaches the kids about how the different tides, and how it can affect you being pulled out into the ocean, as well as learning how to be safe. The tutorials are then followed by teaching the kids how to surf by giving them each a personal and professional surfing instructor. An article conducted in 2003 when Forkin was asked what three words describe AC best he replied, "Life's a beach," which to this day he still believes.
Does the youth of AC have options that outsiders don't necessarily know about? Is it really all about the city’s crime? Tilton commented on how "It’s about breaking that persona that we are the most violent city in the area." The Boys & Girls club will continue to create a fun and safe atmosphere for the youth to hang out.
"What makes a club is when you can walk in and there is this feeling, and it’s hard to explain. It's this feeling of home, it’s this feeling of safety, it’s this feeling of belonging, and respect. Because once you feel like you belong to this club you're going to also in return respect this club," a passionate, emotional Tilton concluded.

To donate to the Boys and Girls Club Atlantic City or for more information, call 609-347-2697 or check out

Monday, June 8, 2015

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: Stories of Atlantic City Casino Workers

by Kellie Brining, Jess Vo and Zach Rayment
Special Correspondents
Atlantic City has been in a state of decay for quite some time now. With numerous closings of the city's casino's, including The Showboat, Revel, and Trump Plaza, The Taj Mahal was anticipated to be next on the list. Facing bankruptcy, the company struggled to stay afloat. With little money to spare, tough decisions had to be made during the ensuing fight against an impending closure.  These tough decisions were precipitated by lay-offs, increasing the jobless market in the City, and leaving employees with very little options.
            Current Cocktail waitress Van Khanh Pham  has been in work at the Trump Taj Mahal for over 20 years, and shares her insights and worries over the proceedings in the following interview conducted by Jess Vo...

Jessie: What is it like to be working at Taj now compared to Taj when you first started?
Pham: The place definitely has change over the years. It’s a little run down in the corners where guests don’t pay attention. There are less guests, only few regulars remain. You can see that there are less workers now than before as people keep getting laid-off every year.

J: Are you afraid that you’ll get laid-off?

P: A little bit, even though I have been working at Taj for 20 years, my seniority isn’t as high as I would have hoped for. So if they decide to lay more people off, I’m definitely high on the list. However, they might choose the people who make more money than I do.

J: What about the rumor that Taj is bankrupt and on the verge of closing?

P:  Taj is bankrupt, according to the letter they sent out to the employees, they’ve declared bankruptcy, but I’m not sure about closing. We keep receiving letter saying what the last day will be, but that was in December, and January. Now, however I think they are going to stay open for a while more, maybe years.

J: How so?

P: Well, I heard they have a plan in place to fix up Taj, and to attract more customers.

J: How does it feel to live in the dark, and not know what will happen to your job?

P: It certainly is hard not knowing, I'm afraid that when I’m unemployed I’ll lose my house, my car, and I won’t be able to feed my kids. I barely make enough right now, working only a few days a week, waiting by the phone for Taj to call me into work that day. But, I really believe everything will be better once the new owner decides on a plan for Taj.

J: I know that co-workers talk among each other about the place they work at. Do you know what your co-workers thought on the subject?

P: We talk alright. Some of my co-workers are currently looking for a new job, and some are looking to move out of state. They really think that Taj is doomed to close either by the end of this summer, or when winter comes. Most of them are tired of living day by day, waiting for the final announcement that they are going to close Taj for good. One of my co-workers said that they are going leave the state because they think that New Jersey is dead, there is nothing left for them here. No jobs, tax rate is crazy, and it seems like no one doing anything to help out at all.
With anecdotal evidence provided by Mrs. Pham it is clear that fear among employees is high, and that workers don't really seem to have a grip on what is certain. Some feel that closure is still looming and that AC is a wasteland, while others are happy to hold onto a job for as long as they can sustain it. When letters went out about shutting down, the anticipated closure date was December 20th, 2014, leaving employees with low hopes for the future, and financial struggles amidst the holiday season.
Tides began to change however, after financial debates between Trump Entertainment Resorts and Carl Icahn resulted in the investment of $20 million from Icahn. USA Today in their report Icahn gives Taj Mahal casino $20M to stay open  quotes the owner of Icahn Enterprises  saying "Many people would still argue that it would be a better financial decision for me to let the Taj close and wait to see whether a global settlement can be reached, but I cannot be so callous as to let 3,000 hardworking people lose their jobs."

This incredible sentiment is not common in the business industry, an industry that is known for placing profit before people. What Icahn proposes is not only profitable for him in the long run after renovations are made, but for workers like Pham who depend on this source of income and employment. Hope, in a sense, is on the horizon, and the casino seems to be on track through the summer, with live performances scheduled up until Saturday August 15th, 2015, when Alice in Chains stops by to rock the house.
The Taj still stands, and perhaps when profits build, laid off employees can get their jobs back, or hopefully make connections elsewhere. The New Jersey Department of Labor and workforce development offers ACRE sessions, or Atlantic City Re-employment sessions for those who qualify for job replacement services and training. ACRE sessions are required by those collecting benefits trough unemployment. Whether applying for unemployment or immediately seeking new employment, the key is to act quickly and seek help actively. is a great resource for both filing for unemployment and or job seeking through a service called OnRamp. Opportunities exist, it's just a matter of finding them.
Works Cited

Parry, Wayne. "Icahn Gives Taj Mahal Casino $20M to Stay Open." USA Today. The Associated Press, 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <>.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Atlantic City: An "On the Street" Perspective

by Brendan Barardo, Erin Smylie, and Tracey Wescott-Cosme
Special Correspondents

In September 2014, the long-standing casino Trump Plaza was shuttered. The casino’s revenue had dropped by 50 percent since 2006, and it’s winnings had fallen by more than 27 percent in it’s first half of 2014. 

In this year alone, the eight casinos left have gained $375.9 million, down 7.2 percent from last year during the same fiscal quarter. This decline is exclusive to New Jersey, and the gambling industry in other states like Nevada, Pennsylvania, and New York are either becoming start-ups to invest or have a flat/increasing rate of revenue. 

Casino competition across the country is high, with 1,400 casinos found across the nation, and 100 found on the East Coast alone. Another impact to Atlantic City was the state initiating online gambling in January, 2011. This seems to have not even put a dent in the funnel money into the state. Money was being put into the casinos and entertainment industry of the city, but did seemingly little to add security and put money into the city itself. 

From the advent of the casinos in 1977 with the Casino Control Act, the industry was mandated to put 2% its revenue gained back into the city and it’s projects. This is through The Casino Reinvestment Act, and is largely managed by a quasi-government agency called CRDA -- Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. 

Recently Governor Chris Christie stated that his first order of business in the restoration of Atlantic City is to “stop the bleeding” and find new ways of bringing life back into the district. New outlets such as Bass Pro Shops have been added within the past year, as well as other businesses to drive customers in and also open up jobs for locals. 

On the street and in the community, there appears to be a different perception.

“Nothing really changed here,” are the words of a cashier working at the Coach Outlet on Arkansas Avenue in Atlantic City. “We get less people who wander in just to shop, but people still come by because this is the only Coach store in the area.” 

Upon being asked if she had any ideas on how the city could reinvent itself, she stated that the shopping district “is fine, it is not the companies that are coming into town that need to change, it’s the districts that are only offered in AC, you know?” This statement indicates what many people interviewed echoed -- that third-party businesses like Coach, Nike, and McDonald's are not the core issue, but the clubs, shows, and casinos may need to reinvent how people are drawn to those spaces. 

“There is no real reason to visit Atlantic City if things keep persisting the way they have,” was another sentiment echoed through various interviews.   The impact has been felt as many jobs have been lost because of the shutdown. More than 1,000 people were given their notice over the shutdown of Trump Plaza, and the Trump Taj Mahal is teetering on the edge of closing as well. With the slow decline in casino closings and an unemployment rate of 17.8 percent since 2012 steadily increasing, finding a job in the city has been tough for locals. 

Atlantic City local Ashley Stuart says that she has little to interest in what happens to the city. 

“Yeah, I’ve been here for about 6 years, but really, it is not by choice.” She stated that it was a financial reason for coming to live in Atlantic City and “if I had the choice, I would get out of this state altogether.” 

Ann Scerino has been a local for 30 years of her life and has been an active in the gambling scene for many years, saying that she “does it for fun and it passes the time in my older years.” It became a shock to her when news got out of the Trump closing, but Scerino is more concerned over what will happen as time goes on. 

“Atlantic City is known for its gambling and fun night-life, and if the city isn’t getting any business and these places start shutting down, then it’s going to turn into another Camden.” Scerino's sentiments give voice to many resident's concerns -- with a decline in tourism, what will keep Atlantic City from becoming another stereotypical rough, gang filled, and crime breeding ground?

Since the decline in revenue in 2006, crimes rates have actually decreased. Recorded theft in the city was 3,148 in 2006, but has decreased to 1,884 in 2012. Auto theft has dropped by more than 100 percent between 2006 and 2012. Why?  

This is occasionally attributed to the decline in tourism, making theft a lot less frequent and harder to commit around locals. Upon being asked how the city could bring new people in, Stuart disputed that as a goal: “Atlantic is a dump and not many people would disagree. I live here because I don’t have any other options outside of moving out of state, and I can’t do that cause I got family here.” 

Showboat casino closed August 31, 2014, 27 years after its opening in 1987. This is one of four Atlantic City casinos that closed in 2014, including the Trump Plaza, The Revel, and The Atlantic Club.  The Showboat's 2,100 employees started to search for new jobs in an already strapped industry.

Can Atlantic City reinvent itself once again?  When the Casinos were established in the 1970’s, the beachfront property was largely ignored, and the businesses focused only on themselves and not on the city. By creating non-gaming attractions on the boardwalk and offering more family friendly options for tourists, the city can have new life brought into it, and hopefully throw some money toward Atlantic City itself, as well as New Jersey.  What about becoming a college town?

 Showboat was purchased by Stockton on December 13, 2014 for $18 million. Stockton used reserved investment funds to purchase the casino and as a result no debt was issued and tuition does not need to be increased, according to reports at the time. The result of these four closings is almost 8,000 people lost their jobs. Some of these people had even been with the casinos since the opening. The Showboat, which will become the Island Campus, will house about 400 students, undergraduate and graduate, starting Fall, 2015.   

Pending board approval, rooms were priced at $4,200 for a single room and $4,000 for a double room. The setup of living at the Island Campus was anticipated to be similar to living at the Seaview, Stockton’s off campus hotel that has two separate wings designated to students. Such a community partner in as a university would breathe new life into the city and bring in young, aspiring students who hope to see Atlantic City succeed. Although Stockton intended to renovate the Showboat and make it a college campus and hotel for students, they ran into some trouble. 

All those plans appear to be in jeopardy as a deed restriction covenant states the property must stay a casino.

The Trump Taj Mahal informed Stockton that it planned to hold the contract made in 1988 between them and showboat that stated these casinos would never run as anything other than casino/hotels. The Taj claims that it is on the brink of bankruptcy and that allowing Stockton to turn Showboat into its next college campus would impact their business in a way that would send them into definite bankruptcy. As a result, Stockton sought to sell the Showboat. 

They found a buyer in Glenn Straub, a Florida developer, and are tentatively selling the Showboat. According to President Saatkamp, who recently resigned, stating poor health as the reason, there is an option “should we want it” that would allow Stockton to lease space from Straub in the Revel for classrooms and residences. 

Walking along the boardwalk on a windy afternoon, John and Laura Wok, were visiting from out of state to gamble. 

“My husband and I visit twice a year from the West, but we didn’t know about the Trump closing down at all.” The couple has made it a tradition to visit the city for its bright lights and attractive shows, but never caught the news that their ‘go-to-place,’ Trump Plaza, had shut down due to the lack of business.

“Laura was looking forward to seeing a couple of comedians and I just wanted to gamble. I mean we still get to do it and all, but if these casinos are shutting down left and right, we won’t have anywhere else to visit,” were the words of Wok after being asked what their plans might include.  Many analysts say a focus should shift towards the Boardwalk and beach to try and bring people back to the city. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


by William Sales, Matt Arcure and Vince Licolli
Guest Contributors

A resort city known for its casinos, boardwalks and beaches, Atlantic City is considered the “Gambling Capital of the East Coast.” Just down the road from America’s major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Baltimore,   Atlantic City has established itself as an American institution. With such high profile cities in the surrounding area and international notoriety, Atlantic City is in the constant watchful eye of the United States Air Force.
Hidden away just minutes from the coast lay the 177th Fighter Wing; a fully operational Air Force Base which is the first line of defense for Atlantic City and the surrounding area. Many Atlantic City inhabitants have taken the oath to protect and serve their country and community.
Senior Airman (SrA) Taylor Binet, a coastal native, has been with the New Jersey National Guard for three years and based at the 177th Fighter Wing Medical Group.
“I just got hired full-time as a health systems technician here on base so I plan to make a career out of this,” she said.
When it comes to the first responders in case of a natural disaster, which we have fallen victim of recently due to Hurricane Sandy, the 177th Medical Group is readily prepared to support and provide emergency medical treatment.
“I feel the 177th Medical Group has proven itself when it comes to providing combat ready medical personnel and has done so continuously by volunteering for medical missions across the country,” says Airman First Class (A1C) William Sales, a member of the Medical Group who was born and raised in Atlantic City.
Members of the Medical Group, including SrA Binet and A1C Sales, have volunteered their time for Operation Stand Down. For SrA Binet, Stand Down South was a particularly humbling and gratifying experience. Members from the Group provided free healthcare and medical screenings for homeless veterans of southern New Jersey to include Atlantic City.
“Seeing what people have gone through that have served before you and just to be able to bond with them was definitely rewarding,” says SrA Binet.

All military medicine staff have been extensively trained at Fort Sam Houston Medical Education and Training Campus (METC). Located in San Antonio, TX, METC was created as a service integrated, state of the art military healthcare education campus to train medical enlisted personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. Today, METC is the world’s largest technical healthcare campus allowing soldiers, sailors, airmen and coast guardsmen to train together for the first time.