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KEVIN CULLEN

Atlantic City sees our folly of casinos

ATLANTIC CITY — There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a taxi with two guys from the Bronx. Inevitably, they start talking about the old neighborhood or, worse, the Yankees.

Stan Grossfeld is my colleague. Adam Lane is my taxi driver. They both grew up in the Bronx, and all three of us are hurtling from the airport toward something that looks, from the distance, like Oz. Just to make conversation, Grossfeld mentions that Massachusetts wants to build casinos, and Adam Lane gives this look in the rear-view mirror, as if we have just said something unprintable about his mother.

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“No,” he says, shaking his head. “You don’t want casinos. Trust me, you don’t want casinos.”

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for this proud, tired town, Vegas-By-The-Sea.

Last week, the US Supreme Court struck down New Jersey’s bid to legalize sports betting. A week before, The Revel, the $2.4 billion hotel and casino that opened on the boardwalk just two years ago, filed for bankruptcy and will close in August unless a new sucker — um, excuse me, buyer — can be found. When it opened, the Revel was held up as the rock-solid revival of New Jersey’s shaky gambling business. Governor Chris Christie put his constituents’ money where his mouth is, pumping $260 million into the project.

Kevin Cullen/Globe Staff

Atlantic City taxi driver Adam Lane, outside the Resorts casino, thinks Massachusetts is crazy to consider building casinos.

Now the Revel stands like an awkward teenager, its countless windows shimmering in the sun, a shiny, white elephant. The Revel’s 57 stories make it the tallest building in Atlantic City. It is an impossible-to-ignore monument to folly, as revenues at all of the 12 casinos here continue to slide.

This is a resilient town. It can take a punch. But the punches keep coming. Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about Atlantic City and is always associated with the place. And so it kills the locals that he just played Mohegan Sun in Connecticut instead of the House of Blues here. There’s even a billboard advertising Mohegan Sun on the expressway that takes you to the airport.

Connecticut is a sensitive subject around here. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are considered interlopers, stealing customers.

That’s how it is in the gambling business. Everybody is a thief, always stealing, whether it’s talent, customers, loyalty, people’s money.

But that’s the thing about the gambling business. There is no loyalty. Just suckers, willing to part with their money for the house, because the house always wins.

That said, there’s a certain charm to this place. Angelo’s, a few blocks off the beach, is the cheapest, best Italian in the world. The people-watching on the boardwalk is far more interesting than the legal thievery going on inside the casinos.

Inside Resorts, the casino was mostly empty. I was standing, just watching, for a while when an old lady rode up on one of those motorized scooters the casinos rent out so people who can’t stand can still lose their money. She had a tank of oxygen and tubing that went into her nose. She was holding an unlit cigarette. “Got a lighter?” she asked.

I was tempted to say, “No, but I have a grenade,” because it would have achieved the same result as her lighting up. Instead, I shook my head and hurried away.

Back in the taxi, Adam Lane worries about Massachusetts casinos stealing even more business. “I’ve seen it go from riches to rags,” he says. “It’s just oversaturation. There’s not enough money out there to be gambled. We’re competing with Vegas, Connecticut, even Philly. And you say Massachusetts is gonna have casinos? You people are nuts.”

He got that right.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.
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