As New Yorkers prepare to consider legalized gambling in order to “create jobs, fund education and lower property taxes,” it’s important to look around the region to where gambling has and has not worked. Atlantic City is a prime example of what not to do. First, a little personal history.

I enjoy gambling. I think it’s a lot of fun. I was always taught as a kid that you never gamble with money you actually need. Assume that you are paying for entertainment, not to win money. If you do win, great, but don’t expect to. This was good advice ( considering I got mountains of bad advice growing up ), and my family had a connection to gambling. After coming over from the old country, we settled in New York in the early 20th century. Been New Yorkers ever since. But in a strange anomaly, my grandfather was born in West Virginia. I never really got a straight answer on this one, but I’m pretty sure it involved a gambling debt. And I’m positive that the bruisers who my great grandfather was into for a lot of money wore three piece suits, had pocket watches and said things like, “Watchit, ya’ bum, or I’m gonna give you’s a knuckle sandwich!” ( Unfortunately, all my knowledge of early 20th century New York has been replaced with cartoon versions of what people looked like and how they talked ).

Anyway, back to Atlantic City. What was once a destination resort town from the 20s through the 40s began to decline in the 50s with the advent of the interstate highway system. People began traveling farther away for their vacations. And when air travel became accessible to the masses in the 60s, Atlantic City further declined as people chose even more exotic locales.

By the 70s, the Jersey pols knew they had to do something. So they decided to introduce gambling and it went to voters in a referendum ( sound familiar? ) in 1976. But they did it all wrong because they failed to include the city’s population when it came time to share the wealth.

Another problem New Jersey failed to anticipate was the proliferation of gambling in neighboring states. For years, people tried to convince the legislature that it would be smart to allow VLT’s at The Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park because people who go to bet on the ponies might also want to play the slots. But the powerful Atlantic City area politicians wouldn’t hear of it, and they successfully blocked any effort to expand gaming which not only would have kept the money in New Jersey, but also would have allowed for some kind of revenue sharing agreement. The city slipped further into decline. And oddly enough it was some of those same companies with casinos in Atlantic City that opened new ones in nearby Pennsylvania which wound up cannibalizing their own AC business. But if New Jersey failed to anticipate what was coming with more gambling elsewhere, New York may be failing to understand what is already here. Gambling is no longer a novelty.

Atlantic City sometimes feels like it’s frozen in time. And not a storied era like the 20s, more like an overcast day in 1986. It doesn’t help that the beach is a little rat. If you have ever heard the Bruce Springsteen song “Atlantic City,” it perfectly encapsulates what the city by the sea is all about…broken promises and disappointment.