Atlantic City Casinos Closings: History and Today
Atlantic City has always been an aspiring ‘Las Vegas of the East’. Back in the 1980s, many thought this dream would become reality, only for it to come crashing down.
However, Atlantic City is, once again, on the up. With the legalization of online gambling and sports betting in New Jersey, as well as a renewed push by major land-based casino brands, Atlantic City continues to welcome thousands of visitors every year.
Timeline of Openings and Closings of Atlantic City Casinos
There are a variety of AC casinos open today. However, many of them have long histories under different owners. There’s also the wasteland of dead casinos that have either been amalgamated into larger operations or simply demolished.
To the credit of the authorities in Atlantic City, there are only two uninhabited casino buildings.
How Many Casinos in Atlantic City Closed?
There are currently nine major casinos that have closed during the modern history of Atlantic City.
What’s surprising is all but two of these casinos opened in the period from 1980 to 1990. The 1980s was a decade of promise for Atlantic City, but it quickly came crumbling down as not enough patrons came to visit these new casinos, which were leveraged to the hilt from the day they opened.
What Casinos are Closed in Atlantic City?
First of all, let’s take a look at the casinos that opened in the 1980s and their eventual fates. Many of the original casinos are still in existence today, even though most were taken over by new owners later.
Opened in April 1981 and lasting until October 1996. Its license was revoked during this year and the resulting casino would become Trump World’s Fair. The successor to the Atlantis would close its doors three years later in 1999.
The Atlantic Club is one of the bigger success stories of the 1980s. It opened its doors in 1980 and would last all the way until 2014, riding out much of the turmoil in Atlantic City. Its assets would be split between Caesars and Tropicana.
Caesars would go on to sell the old Atlantic Club property in 2014. TJM Properties bought the casino and intended on turning it into a non-gaming real estate property. However, it pulled out of the development and plans were initially made in 2017 to turn it into a waterpark. The financing this project would ultimately fall through.
Today, the old Atlantic Club’s future continues to be up in the air. A company called Colosseo Atlantic City Inc. plan on turning it into a hotel, as of 2019. However, there has been no additional information on the Atlantic Club’s fate.
Claridge Casino and Hotel
Like the Atlantic Club, the Claridge Casino and Hotel would open in the early 1980s (July 1981) and survive all the way until 2014.
The Claridge Casino and Hotel utilized a London theme and saw lots of early success. As we as a multi-level casino, it had a showroom with 600 seats. Major names regularly played at the showroom, including Aretha Franklin and Joan Rivers.
The Claridge Casino and Hotel, however, struggled to compete against the larger casinos during the boom period. In 2001, it saw an ignominious fall as it was merged with Bally’s and essentially became another hotel tower for Bally’s. Its restaurants were also closed during this period.
The Sands opened in August 1980 and did business until November 2006. It was owned by the Pratt Hotel Corporation for most of the boom period. The Sands flourished under their ownership, with some of the biggest entertainers in the country appearing here.
The Sands saw appearances from Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, and Whitney Houston, to name just a few. But the newer casinos in Atlantic City soon eclipsed the Sands and it became the smallest casino in town.
However, as the years went on the Sands made numerous efforts to expand. These were curtailed by its position on the Boardwalk and other casinos. Poor cashflow and a lack of visitors to the smallest casino in town.
Once it closed its doors for the final time, the Sands was demolished and turned into what’s now Atlantic’s Wonder Park.
Showboat is one of the happier casino stories in New Jersey. Following its opening in April 1987, it lasted until August 2014 when a buyer couldn’t be found for the casino.
It was thought that Showboat would become an empty shell, but a buyer was found for the property. The Richard Stockton College bought it and then sold it to Bart Blatstein, a developer from Philadelphia.
The old Showboat property was reopened as a non-casino resort hotel in 2016.
Donald Trump’s mark on Atlantic City has been something of a skid mark in New Jersey. Trump Plaza opened in 1984 and would go through a chaotic and public bankruptcy process in 1992.
The Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts company would take over the casino. Further construction to create a new hotel tower occurred in 1996.
Trump Plaza would become Trump Entertainment Resorts and in 2011 a request was made for a sale or financing of Trump Plaza. No investors came forward and Trump Plaza closed after thirty years of operation in 2014.
Trump Taj Mahal
This casino was Trump’s later foray into the gambling market in New Jersey. Opening in April 1990, it lasted just two years longer than Trump Plaza and closed in October 2016, during the middle of a labor dispute. Currently, it’s operating as the Hard Rock Casino.
At one time, the Trump Taj Mahal was the largest casino in the world. Michael Jackson even appeared at the grand opening. In its first day of operation, the Trump Taj Mahal generated $2 million.
The reopened Hard Rock Casino is one of the most profitable casinos in Atlantic City, as of 2019.
Perhaps one of the biggest failures in Atlantic City. It opened in 2012 and was then closed and sold off in 2014. It’s now the Ocean Resort Casino.
After filing for bankruptcy in little over a year after opening, Glenn Straub, a Florida property developer, bought it for $82 million in 2015. However, Straub couldn’t obtain the right permits to reopen it again.
It would then be sold to AC Ocean Walk and reopen as the Ocean Resorts Casino in 2018.
Empty Casinos in Atlantic City
The majority of Atlantic City’s closed casinos were quickly swept away to avoid the glitz and glamor turning into a ghost town.
Most of the casinos in question were either sold off as other casinos or demolished and rebuilt as something else.
The Atlantic Club and Trump Plaza are the only two major closed casinos that were left uninhabited after they shut down.
The Trump Plaza has been earmarked for demolition many times, but someone has always stepped in at the last minute. The latest news on Trump Plaza is that Carl Icahn bought the deed to Trump Plaza’s land, which dealt with the complex lease that had stopped potential buyers coming in in the past.
The Atlantic Club has seen a similar story, with many buyers seeking to buy the land and the building since its closure. However, various parties have prevented the demolition of the Atlantic Club, and even sales of the land itself.
The latest attempt occurred in early 2019. Since then, the Atlantic Club has seen no interest and the casino remains shuttered.
Which Atlantic City Casinos are Still Open?
Despite being far smaller than Las Vegas, Atlantic City has hit somewhat of a boom period. Huge casinos dominate large swathes of the landscape.
Here are the major casinos in operation today.
The Borgata utilizes a Tuscany theme in its giant casino consisting of almost 3,000 hotel rooms. Based in the Marina district, the Borgata opened in July 2003 and is currently the market leader for land-based casinos.
Borgata is also known for its premier poker rooms, which have hosted a number of professional tournaments.
In 2008, Borgata opened the Water Club at Borgata, which is an additional hotel boasting 800 rooms.
Bally’s is another big name, with the casino opening in 1979 and taking over from the original Golden Nugget. Based in Midtown, this highly modern casino is a favorite in Atlantic City. It also owns the Wild West Casino, which opened in 1997.
There are more than 5,000 slot machines at Bally’s. It’s owned by Caesars Entertainment, which also owns Harrah’s and Caesars.
Caesars is another old casino, having opened its doors in 1979 under the name of the Boardwalk Regency. This big name in the gambling business has over a thousand hotel rooms and allows players to sink into a Roman Empire theme as they hit the tables.
This is the second oldest casino in the city and has operated under its current name of the Caesars Atlantic City since 1987. It would join in the construction boom by adding an expanded gaming floor and two additional hotel towers.
Today, it boasts over 3,000 slot machines and operates 135 different table games.
Big online and big in Vegas, the Golden Nugget moved into Atlantic City with its Gold Rush Era theme in June 1985. It’s one of the mainstays of the Marina district. The original building was constructed by Hilton Hotels.
The reason why Donald Trump opened the original Golden Nugget as Trump’s Castle, and then Trump Marina, was due to the fact Hilton Hotels failed to secure a gaming license.
The Golden Nugget Atlantic City became what it was today in 2011, after a $150 million renovation project.
It’s currently owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment.
Hard Rock Casino
The Hard Rock took over the Trump Taj Mahal in 1990. This Rock and Roll-themed casino boasts almost 2,000 hotel rooms and holds a huge presence in Uptown.
At one time, the Hard Rock Casino building was the largest casino in the world and known as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The collapse of the original Trump Taj Mahal was seen as symbolic of the end of Atlantic City’s boom period.
Located on the Marina, Harrah’s has over 2,500 hotel rooms. It opened in 1980 and has established a large online presence in recent years.
The original Harrah’s was known as the Harrah’s Marina Resort. Harrah’s claimed a little piece of history by being the first casino established away from the Boardwalk.
There are currently five towers at Harrah’s, of which the latest tower was constructed in 2008. Harrah’s offers a luxury experience for its guests, with comfortable hotel rooms, pools, and spas.
Additionally, Harrah’s boasts 177,000 square feet of casino. Guests can play one of the 5,500 slots games or enjoy the poker room. Harrah’s Poker Room comes with 40 different poker tables.
The Resorts Casino is an older casino opened in 1978. This Roaring Twenties themed casino is a favorite among visitors to Atlantic City’s Uptown district.
However, its current incarnation only came into being in 2011, following a huge renovation project. The original casino was built on land formerly occupied by Quaker rooming houses. In 2004, it received its famed 27-storey hotel tower.
This historic Atlantic City casino has more than 70,000 square feet of gaming space.
The Tropicana Casino has a unique Old Havana theme, harkening back to the 1950s. It’s been the largest casino in the Downbeach area since 1981 and boasts 2,300 hotel rooms.
Tropicana has also created a casino filled with history. The original skeleton of the Tropicana consists of what remains of the old Ambassador Hotel, which dates back to 1919. Ramada would buy the hotel in 1978 and convert it into the Tropicana building everyone knows today.
It also boasts The Quarter at Tropicana, which is a shopping mall bearing the casino’s Old Havana theme.
As well as its more than 2,000 hotel rooms, Tropicana recently acquired The Chelsea, a neighboring boutique hotel and its 300+ rooms.
History of Atlantic City Casinos
New Jersey is a state known for its affliction with gambling. The authorities within this state have always believed in freedom. Until lotteries were banned in 1844, New Jersey regularly held them to enable funding for the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War.
Even after gambling was outlawed, enforcement was incredibly spotty. It’s well-known that social gambling flourished. Even churches would openly hold bingo games in defiance of Federal law.
Atlantic City itself started as a center for health resorts, with the famous Boardwalk area designed to prevent sand from getting into hotel lobbies.
The Road to Opening Atlantic City’s First Casino
Despite Atlantic City’s reputation as the Las Vegas of the Atlantic, it took a long time for Nevada’s casino monopoly to break. The state did open the Freehold Raceway, allow gambling at the racetrack in 1939, and non-profits were able to run raffles and bingo in 1953. Amusement games would then be legalized in 1959.
The groundwork for Atlantic City’s first casino started to form after the 1970 referendum, where New Jersey voters supported the implementation of a lottery with a majority of 81.5%.
In 1976, casinos finally expanded beyond Nevada’s borders as New Jersey legalized casinos. This followed a statewide referendum that voted against legalizing casinos across the whole of the state.
Two years later, proponents for casinos decided to try again. They proposed that new casinos be restricted to the city limits of Atlantic City. In another vote, encompassing only residents of Atlantic City, the proposal passed by around 200,000 votes.
The First Casino in Atlantic City
The Press of Atlantic City was a heavy supporter of legalizing gambling in the city. It’s important to understand the health resorts had long since faded away and the city was experiencing severe economic problems at the times. Casinos were seen as the answer.
The Resorts Casino is the oldest Atlantic City casino hotel. It occupies the same position on the city’s historic Boardwalk area as it did when it first opened. Today, it’s one of the premier hotels in Atlantic City.
At Resorts you’ll spot the classic theme of the Roaring Twenties. This harkens back to the famous Prohibition Era, where the law was largely ignored. That same era would be further immortalized through HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
The 80’s Boom
The 1980s saw Atlantic City boom, with the majority of Atlantic City’s current skyline coming to life. It would see Harrah’s Atlantic City, New Jersey open its doors, with Bally’s Casino and the Golden Nugget becoming major players throughout the city.
During the second half of the 1980s, current president of the United States Donald Trump would step up to the plate, with the Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza. Historians generally consider the opening of Trump’s casino empire to be the end of the construction boom in Atlantic City.
What was so stunning about the construction boom in Atlantic City is how much success the city briefly enjoyed.
In 1988, revenues for Atlantic City hit $2.73 billion, whereas Las Vegas could only report $1.94 billion in revenue for the year.
For many, Atlantic City was well on the way to surpassing Las Vegas as the gambling mecca of America. Remember, other than on Indian reservations, casinos could be found nowhere else in the US.
The Myth about Atlantic City’s Failure
Many say that Atlantic City saw a dramatic fall from grace following the 1980s and the 1990s. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The problem is everyone believes Trump’s failure meant failure for Atlantic City, particularly since he owned 25% of all casinos in the city and oversaw the Trump Taj Mahal, which was once the largest casino in the world.
Although the Trump Taj Mahal was deeply in debt and filed for bankruptcy, thus leading to Trump losing many of his assets, Atlantic City continued to boast huge revenues. By the early 2000s, revenues hit $4 billion.
Trump’s reign in Atlantic City came to an end in 2004, when his consolidated company Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts filed for bankruptcy, with Trump resigning as chairman.
What many forget is that Atlantic City’s casino revenues saw constant growth throughout Trump’s public battle against bankruptcy. These revenues would only see a decline following the 2008 recession.
What Does the Future Hold for Atlantic City Casinos?
It’s well-known that the Borgata Casino took over as the industry leader throughout the 2010s. Nobody has managed to surpass it as the market leader within Atlantic City.
The decline in the fortunes of the casinos in Atlantic City appears to have stabilized since the dark decade following the recession. However, revenue is still down by over 50%, when compared to the mid-2000s.
However, the future of the gambling industry in Atlantic City has changed.
The Legalization of Online Gambling
New Jersey and Atlantic City oversaw a period of falling profits and constant decline. To counter this, New Jersey legalized online gambling in 2012. This allowed casinos to offer online gaming facilities to anyone within the borders of the state.
This saw huge increases in revenues through online gaming. Despite not hitting the revenues of the boom period of the 2000s, New Jersey is on the way up again.
Additionally, in 2018, New Jersey decided to legalize sports betting. Most of the big casinos, including the Golden Nugget, Borgata, and Caesars have now opened up sports betting facilities to gamblers across the state.
This will see New Jersey casinos tap revenue streams that simply weren’t available in the past. It’s unlikely that the land-based casinos of Atlantic City will hit the heights of the boom period, but these new revenue streams may propel these major brands back to the mega profits of old.
Although revenues haven’t spiked like they did in the 2000s thus far, it’s obvious that Atlantic City is well on the way back to prominence.