Back in August, Patrick Kerkstra wrote a fine account of today’s Atlantic City—a town on state-aided life support, wheezing and hacking from lost gambling revenues, and unable to reconcile its glitzy dreams and the grim reality of its crime and poverty-riddled streets. Governor Chris Christie wants to clean it up, scrub away the seediness and make it a more family-friendly resort. So of course, the next logical step toward Atlantic City’s salvation is a new strip club—a Scores franchise set to open inside the Trump Taj Mahal.
As firsts go, news of the first in-casino gentlemen’s club ranks low among Atlantic City’s history. But it’s a sign that the future isn’t so bright by the sea. This week, construction on the $2.4 billion Revel casino was declared two weeks ahead of schedule and its doors should open in plenty of time for Memorial Day tourists and vacationers. That’s good news, sort of. As Kerkstra explained, Atlantic City’s future isn’t solely based on casinos, but on improving what’s offered outside the gaming halls, including “more sex appeal.” I’m sure a topless club with a liquor license isn’t what he had in mind.
Scores is the same franchise that tried to open in Northern Liberties in 2006, until pushback from the zoning board and neighbors drove them away. Apparently, they drove all the way to the Shore, and now Atlantic City gets Philadelphia’s unwanted scraps. Making the situation even more absurd is New Jersey’s restrictions for topless bars that serve alcohol. Nudity is prohibited. Pasties are required. No lap dances and no physical contact with the patrons. No simulated “sex activity.” What then, I wonder, will a boozed-up gentleman get in a private room, at a lusty rate of $300 per half hour, plus whatever “tip” he negotiates with his g-stringed contractor of choice?
The Scores project is a joke, and the last thing Atlantic City needs is another punchline moment. Exotic dancers won’t help the town’s image problem or its losing battle with Pennsylvania’s casinos (many of which are located just a short drive from topless—or fully nude—strip joints). There’s hope that the Revel will spark renewed interest and inspire more development in the dying resort town. Leave it to Donald Trump to dampen that optimism with a deal that’s both bad business and makes Atlantic City even less classy.