By John Montone, 1010 WINS
As I navigated my boat, the MOJO, across Great Bay in South Jersey last week I came upon one giant relic and maybe another bigger one.
The “Stink House,” as it is known locally is a former fish-processing factory. The building which sits on a small island is now nothing but rusting steel, rotting wood and crumbling concrete. Passing it by, I could see in the distance the approaching Atlantic City skyline with the gleaming Revel casino like a massive exclamation point at its north end. A $2.4-billion exclamation point for an awful public policy gamble.
Over the next few weeks, Revel and two other Atlantic City casinos will croak. As I reported Wednesday on 1010 WINS radio, not since Springsteen sang, “They blew up the chicken man in Philly last night,” has A.C. faced tougher times. Tens of thousands of jobs will be lost and the city that was once home to the, “Boardwalk Empire” will be a poorer and more hopeless place to live.
It didn’t have to be like this. But soon after my home state passed a casino gaming referendum in the 1976, politicians and gaming honchos who bragged about saving, “America’s Favorite Playground,” set about killing it.
I had last been to Atlantic City as a freshman in high school in 1968 when I walked the famous boardwalk with a group of friends awash in the great smells and sounds of the famous seaside resort. My next visit was as a young radio reporter in 1981. Not having enough money to my name to even think of sitting at a black jack table, I left the casino floor to re-visit the boardwalk. It was decrepit. Many of the food stands and gift shops were boarded up. And the sprawling beach was littered with trash. A local journalist explained to me that the casino operators saw the boardwalk and beach as threats. People sunning themselves are people who are not pulling the one-armed bandits. And so the very attractions that drew people to A.C. for over a century were allowed to waste away.
Now with a major source of state revenue disappearing New Jersey politicians have had a brain storm: “Let’s make Atlantic City a resort that offers gambling rather than a gambling resort.” Duh! And at the same time some of those same politicians want to build a casino in the Meadowlands, a casino which would compete with… yeah, right.
Most of the people who spoke into my microphone Wednesday morning in the Jersey Meadowlands said they would rather have a casino closer to their homes than have to drive three hours down the Garden State Parkway. And if that would plunge the knife deeper into the chest of A.C., well, as another great Garden State crooner put it, “That’s Life…”
And so thinking back to that recent sun-splashed afternoon on Great Bay, I wondered if the sparkling Atlantic City skyline would some day look like, “The Stink House.”