When did Atlantic City start to decline? 

When did Atlantic City start to decline? 

Society News

Atlantic City was once a tourist hub for families, gamblers, and thrill seekers.

Atlantic City boardwalk near Bally's Atlantic City
Atlantic City boardwalk near Bally’s Atlantic City

It had an iconic boardwalk, lavish beaches, and uninhibited gambling. Over the past few decades the “Queen of Resorts” has regressed into a city of crime and poverty. Atlantic City has lost its monopoly over the entertainment industry. This is due to changes in tastes from tourists, economic decline, the rise in widespread transportation, and competition from neighboring cities. 

Nearly three million people used to visit Atlantic City each year in the early 1900s.

Lifeguards circa 1913-1916
Lifeguards circa 1913-1916

They came to see the boardwalk and beaches, but the majority came to gamble and drink. Despite gambling being illegal in the United States, law enforcement and politicians were given large bribes to overlook it.

This was possible due to the economic prosperity the tourists were bringing to the city.

Atlantic City was the only place on the East Coast where you could seek out this level of entertainment. Even when Prohibition was passed in 1920, it was blatantly ignored resulting in the city being deemed “the most corrupt city in the country”. This further increased the amount of tourists the city brought in. 

The expansion of the transportation industry played a significant role in the decline of Atlantic City.

The development of the interstate highway system made it easier and more affordable for people to travel to other destinations. Furthermore, as air travel became more widespread, tourists looked to visit more exotic locations around the world. Thus, new easily accessible vacation destinations around the world reduced the demand for Atlantic City as a vacation spot. 

As tourism declined, so did the amount of jobs. Loss of jobs as a result, led to a rise in crime in the city and many homes and businesses being abandoned. Additionally, this new impoverished appearance contrasted with the shining city Atlantic City used to be. In the 1970s the mobs that controlled Atlantic City swayed politicians to legalize gambling in the hopes of bringing back tourists.

As a result, of this legalization of gambling, Atlantic City received a virtual monopoly on gambling on the East Coast.

inside of Tropicana Casino

This brought millions of tourists and gamblers back to the city, leading to a boom in construction and investment. The success of the casinos didn’t help the real issues the city was facing however. Tourists didn’t stay for long and only came to gamble so the issues of poverty and crime persisted. 

The rise of neighboring cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, played a crucial part in the decline of Atlantic City. Not only did these cities invest heavily into their own tourism industries, but they also legalized gambling. This caused Atlantic City to lose its virtual monopoly on gambling and the one thing that still attracted tourists. The city experienced a steep decline in tourism and revenue. This caused many casinos to declare bankruptcy which further increased the unemployment and poverty rate in the city. 

This image of the city was the final thing that contributed to its decline.

Atlantic City has become associated with decay, crime, and poverty. Tourists perceived the city as unsafe and unappealing, deterring the majority of people that would even think of going. To this day, local governments and businesses have tried to rid themselves of this image to little success. 

Tourists walk on the boardwalk in Atlantic City in front of the now closed Trump Taj Mahal. Hard Rock Atlantic City took its place.

In conclusion, the fall of Atlantic City can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the loss of its main industry, economic decline, increased competition from neighboring cities, and a negative public image. While the legalization of gambling initially gave the city an economic boost, it was not enough to overcome the other challenges it faced. While there have been efforts to rebuild the city’s image, with things such as new tourism infrastructure and casinos, Atlantic City is far from its former glory as a tourist destination.

Profile Photo
Written by Jonah Luetke

Works Cited 

“Atlantic City: Economy .” Cities of the United States. Encyclopedia.com. 20 Mar. 2023 https://www.encyclopedia.com. 

Gurley, Gabrielle. “Atlantic City: The Fall of the Boardwalk Empire.” The American Prospect, 8 Apr. 2016, https://prospect.org/economy/atlantic-city-fall-boardwalk-empire/. Harvey, Austin. “Inside The Rise And Fall Of Atlantic City.” All That’s Interesting, All That’s Interesting, 11 Dec. 2022, https://allthatsinteresting.com/atlantic-city#3.

Atlantic City Casinos History

When did Atlantic City start to decline?