Two of the five casinos that shuttered — including one that used to have President Donald Trump’s name emblazoned across the marquee — reopened under new ownership and branding in recent years.
Revenue was up, with the casinos having their best February since 2011. It was starting to feel like a new era for the city. Even Trump’s name had been scrubbed from the boardwalk, years after he fled town.
Then came the coronavirus.
In March, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all casinos closed and all major events canceled, a near complete shutdown of the city’s economy. Like in Las Vegas — in cities across the nation that have been similarly devastated by virus-induced lockdown — the damage has been severe and immediate. But, unlike in some other tourist destinations, Atlantic City was in a rough position to begin with. Now there are likely more dark years to come.
“We have the potential of an Armageddon in Atlantic City,” George Tibbitt, the president of the City Council, said in an interview.
Atlantic City and its suburbs — along with much of southern New Jersey — has been spared the worst of the coronavirus infections that have devastated the northern and central parts of the state and neighboring New York, with 964 cases and 41 deaths reported since early March.
But local leaders and economic analysts aren’t taking much comfort in that. Even if the virus doesn’t hit the area as hard as it has in North Jersey, the economic disaster for Atlantic City looks even more pronounced, and could reverberate long after the virus subsides.
The casinos have been closed for more than a month. A planned expansion of Stockton’s campus in Atlantic City, a sign of hope the city could someday be less reliant on the volatile gaming industry, has been put on hold. So, too, has the construction of an aviation technology park at the Atlantic City International Airport.