On a cool, Tuesday morning in September, the boardwalk in Atlantic City is an open expanse of sun-bleached wood. The view is unbroken by tourists, joggers or even at this moment, the hired men who regularly shuffle up and down its four mile length dutifully collecting debris left by the previous night's revelers.
The line of casinos that rise over the boardwalk form a bold statement of purpose for the town. Simply put - Atlantic City will live or die by gambling. A five minute walk due west from any casino exposes the town's intention fully, as seedy motels, broken-down row houses and empty gravel lots sit idly in the shadows of these once mighty buildings, a testament to city planning four miles wide but barely two blocks deep.
At the time the first casinos opened in 1978, there was nowhere on the East Coast of the United States where one could legally gamble. And for decades, the place felt mighty, glamorous and invincible. Yet none of the billions of dollars they brought in ever seemed to have touched any other part of the city.
Early this year, the Atlantic Club shut its doors after thirty-four years. In late summer, as already dwindling crowds faded into fall, three casinos closed within weeks of each other - the Showboat, Trump Plaza and Revel. A combined fifty-nine years of flashing lights, chorusing slots and pulsing urges lay still. With competing casinos closer to the cities that once sent dozens of buses down the Parkway each weekend, it's hard to see a future in gambling, and subsequently it's hard to see a future in Atlantic City.