July 5, 2006

Atlantic City turns wholesome as casinos shuttered

By Matthew Verrinder

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - B.J. Novak, a
56-year-old gambler from Philadelphia, was down $1,200 when
Atlantic City's casinos closed their doors on Wednesday and now
he's worried he won't get a chance to win his money back.

The casinos in Atlantic City, an East Coast cousin of the
more glitzy Las Vegas, are not allowed to operate without state
regulators in place and a budget crisis in New Jersey means
nonessential state employees have been ordered to stay home.

"I've been here all night. I just left to get some food and
came back but I guess I didn't make it," said Novak. He had
dark circles under his eyes after emerging from a cavernous
hall where the constant din of slot machines was silenced,
leaving the sound of canned country music audible for once.

"I'm down about 1,200 bucks; now they're going to be closed
for good so I'm not sure what I'm going to do," he said.

Boardwalk busker Gary Clinton played the mournful funeral
call "Taps" on his trumpet at 8 a.m. as the casinos closed.
"It's dead," he said. "People are leaving."

The city is normally crowded in July with daytrippers --
many of whom take advantage of free bus tickets and subsidized
meals provided by the casinos to lure them in -- as well as
vacationers who mix gambling with beach-going.

Olga Payne, manager of Goldworld Jewelers, one of four
shops offering cash for gold near the Sands Casino, said
business was very slow: "We totally depend on the gamblers."

The casinos were given a reprieve over the July 4 holiday
weekend but were shuttered from Wednesday morning as
politicians in the state capital haggled over how to fill a
$4.5 billion budget deficit -- which could leave the casinos
closed for several days.

"It definitely doesn't make any sense, because this is what
brings in the money," said Cary Putzer, 51, a gambler from
Queens, New York, who was playing at "21" when a loudspeaker
announcement told players to leave the tables.

An industry official said on Wednesday the closure could
cost gaming operators as much as $20 million a day in revenues,
and state coffers will lose some $1.3 million daily in taxes.

"This is ridiculous," said Mary Ahmed, whose news stand on
the boardwalk was doing slow business on a humid, overcast day.
"This is a ghost town. Everyone went home," she said.

Some families strolled on the boardwalk or on the beach,
but barriers blocked the entrances to gambling halls in giant
casino hotels such as the Trump Taj Mahal -- an Indian-themed
venue with garish neon lights and restaurants and bars.

"I live day to day. It's terrible," said Cindy Armstrong,
who has been serving drinks at Harrah's casino for 25 years.
"Cocktail servers don't get a full paycheck so we depend on our
tips for our living. With no people, there's no tips."

Roberto Rivera, 54, cleans floors and tables at Bally's
casino, but on Wednesday he was told there was no work. His
wife is a housekeeper at Harrah's and his son is a dealer at
the Borgata casino.

"The politicians are going to hurt so many people here," he
said. "We have to pay bills and support our families."

Lisa Smith, 39, from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, enjoyed the
relatively empty resort as she took her two-year-old son Sawyer
for a walk in a stroller. "It's really good. We're here for
just the boardwalk the beach and food," she said. "It's a much
more wholesome vacation. The gamblers have all left."

But her mother, Sue Karpowich, had mixed feelings. "My
husband and I are sort of missing the gambling, but it's saving
us money."