Atlantic City casino execs campaigning for safer streets

During the Clean and Safe Atlantic City meeting on Friday, a number of casino executives stated that to increase pedestrian traffic and stay competitive, Atlantic City needed to ensure its streets were safe.

The executives emphasized that the only way the city could become a walkable resort like Las Vegas was if they ensured that the public was safe outside the walls of the casino. This sheds light on the growing issue of homelessness in Atlantic City. Due to a lack of place to sleep, homeless people usually dwelled on or under the Broadwalk and other places in the Tourism District.

While homelessness has been an issue in the city, it worsened during the pandemic and record inflation. Hundreds of homeless people who loiter around the streets have reportedly made the casino market unattractive for several potential travelers.

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The Senior Vice President of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, Mike Sampson, was among the executives at the meeting last week. He noted that the state of the city for the past years was a source of pain to him.

“‘Clean and safe’ is what we talk about all the time. I’ve been driving to Hard Rock each and every day for 32 years, and it’s not always pleasant. When I look at it like a guest or newcomer coming into the city, it pains me,” Sampson said.

“The economic crisis we are facing is starting to show itself. We’ve been seeing it for five to six months now,”

Sampson further said that brick-and-mortar gaming was at a crutial point mainly because the economic crisis was showing itself. He revealed that Hard Rock, for the past “five to six months”, had witnessed a drop in first Independent guests and then in lower-level gamblers.

“There is a tremendous influx of new homelessness. We have to hunker down. I fear it’s going to be a cold winter for Atlantic City,” Sampson said.

James Sarkos, the Police Chief, was also present and talked about the difficulties in relocating homeless people. He noted that even if they were given tickets that ordered them to move, they would be right back as soon as the coast was clear.

“We can ticket them if they are blocking the sidewalk,” Sarkos said. “It’s an ordinance violation, and we ask them to move on… Frequently, we move them along, and they come back (when police leave). We will definitely try to give it more attention.”

Sarkos also noted that there was nothing the police could do to a homeless person who was not blocking pedestrian traffic or loitering in front of a business establishment. He explained that the reason they congregate around energy buildings was because of how warm the sidewalk there is.

Law enforcement noted that several outreaches by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and the Atlantic City Police Department had taken several homeless people into programs for substance abuse and mental health treatment. Their spots are, however, regularly taken up by new arrivals.

“Last night, I personally counted 40 homeless I have not seen before. There are more new people coming here all the time,” Assemblyman Don Guardian said.

The owner of McDonald, Anthony Mack, stated that he had seen several people sleeping beside the DCO Energy building on Atlantic Avenue. He added that Atlantic City would never attain the “flow of people in Las Vegas” until settings like that were taken care of.

Compared to Atlantic City, Las Vegas is significantly more famous in the gaming business and has a more financially sturdy gaming market. Casinos in Atlantic City have for decades wished for the same kind of visitor traffic in Las Vegas every year.

The president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, Mark Giannantonio, compared Atlantic City and Las Vegas and found the former lacking in terms of the number of people on the street.

“Look at Atlantic City, and what’s missing? The absence of (tourists) on the streets. You go to Las Vegas; there are people everywhere,” Giannantonio said.

The Resorts Casino hotel CEO further noted that Atlantic City needed to prioritize the safety of visitors so they could freely roam the streets.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement previously released figures which showed that for October, there was a more than 7% decrease in the money in-person gamblers won this year compared to the same period in 2021. The number was higher than that of October 2019.

There are several reasons Las Vegas attracts much more tourists than Atlantic City yearly. Las Vegas houses one of the busiest airports in the nation and is a top-tier destination worldwide for broad-scale events and conventions. The city also has a desert climate with almost 300 days of sunshine annually.

Clark County in Las Vegas houses around 160 licensed gaming facilities and Southern Nevada is currently experiencing a massive estate boom. This can be linked to the amount of Californians that have moved to the Mojave Desert in the past few years.

In contrast, the nine casinos in Atlantic City are surrounded by vacant homes, blighted buildings, haggard storefronts, and an endless amount of homeless people. Although property values have increased in the west, home prices in the city continue to plummet. By last month, the median sale price of a home in Atlantic City was $155,000, which is $10,000 lower than in October 2021.

Besides trying to reduce homelessness, gaming establishments encourage Atlantic City to ensure that the streets surrounding the casinos are secure.

New Jersey unveiled a major development in August concerning reaching the goal of donating $5 million to aid the purchase of 250 surveillance cameras to expand the security system in the city. Some $4.6 million was also set aside for public work improvements such as street sweeping. The Boardwalk’s resurfacing is also covered by the funding.

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