Atlantic City shows gambling isn't recession-proof

Mon Mar 16, 2009 4:06am EDT
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By Jon Hurdle

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - In the 20 years he's worked on the Atlantic City boardwalk, Joe Lochs has never seen business this bad.

Lochs, 54, makes his living giving rides to casino patrons in a "rolling chair," a three-wheeled, wicker-sided buggy that he pushes up and down the boardwalk between casinos, shops and restaurants.

In good times, he can make $1,000 a week but since the beginning of winter, business is off by around 60 percent, and some days, there is no work at all.

Business at Atlantic City's 11 casinos is falling at a record pace. Aggregate revenue plunged 19.2 percent in February from a year earlier, the sharpest decline in the 30 years since gambling was legalized in the city, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

"Before this year, I never had a day without a single ride," Lochs said, rolling a cigarette outside the bankrupt Trump Plaza casino. "This year, I've had three of them."

Nearby, six of Lochs' competitors dozed in their chairs as potential clients strolled by in the late-winter sunshine.

Like everyone else in New Jersey's gambling capital, Lochs has been hit by the contracting national economy and by increased competition from a growing gaming industry in surrounding states, particularly neighboring Pennsylvania, where casinos allow slot machines but not table games.

"We no longer have this total monopoly on the market," Lochs said.   Continued...

<p>A view from the boardwalk of several casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, March 14, 2009. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer</p>