Atlantic City’s boardwalk hummed with activity on a balmy Saturday afternoon in July. A cavalcade of families roamed the sandy platform, dawdling over soft-swirled ice cream cones and baskets of fried Oreos, flanked by the umbrella-laden Jersey Shore. A gaggle convened outside Caesars for the annual food and wine festival, this year headlined by a group of Food Network stars: Robert Irvine, Rocco DiSpirito, and Pat and Gina Neely. Kitschy shops were full of tourists snatching up t-shirts and knickknacks. The scene was a snapshot of Americana at its best, a throwback to AC’s heyday.
But despite the robust crowds on this weekend, it has been a frenetic road for a relic that once thrived as the eastern seaboard’s entertainment epicenter. The Great Recession, Hurricane Sandy, and overall tourism shifts (Pennsylvania is now the northeast's gambling capital) have taken their toll. The gleaming 2012-opened, $2.4 billion Revel was supposed to be the antidote, a Las Vegas-grade temple to Michelin-star restaurants, clubby pool parties, and an ultra-luxe spa. The brain trust used Sin City’s evolution as a template, one that focuses on self-indulgent pleasures over blackjack and roulette tables; gambling was supposed to be an afterthought. A $111 million loss and March bankruptcy later, the hotel is now switching its attention, unveiling slot machine promotions and advertising campaigns—“Gamblers Wanted”—to draw visitors to their casino (they’ve even lifted the ban on smoking).