History of Atlantic City Casinos

By Ionut
Published April 29, 2020

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Golden Nugget

 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.

Resorts Casino

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 bought the hotel in 1978, and then converted 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. This is a neighboring boutique hotel with 300+ rooms.