7 Ways to Flip Atlantic City’s Image

It’s time for A.C. to change its strategy.



I travelled to Atlantic City this week to appear on the popular Harry Hurley talk radio show on WPG, which stands for World’s Play Ground, a leftover moniker from a time gone by. Since I had to be up early in the morning, I was put up in Resorts International.

My father was born and raised in Atlantic City, but I am not an “AC guy,” meaning I don’t gamble and I have a family. Ocean City is my shore resort of choice. I’m not certain anyone in the area chooses Atlantic City for the summer or for the week, just for the night or a wild weekend. But I checked and found there was a pool at Resorts and so I brought the wife and kids. They could stay safe poolside, while I made my radio appearance, and then we would head to Ocean City for the rest of the day.

At least that was the plan.

We ended up staying in Atlantic City for another night. We went to the beach, hit the rides on Steel Pier, walked the boardwalk and ate at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaretville to hear live music.

Resorts Hotel was perfect. The pool was kid-friendly and the place was spotless. It is no wonder that Atlantic City’s first hotel-casino thrives while others come and go. Resorts has shown a profit the past six months, while other casinos operate in the red and three may be closing.

My experience gives a glimpse at both the problem and the solution for Atlantic City, as it struggles to reinvent itself. Most cars packed with suitcases, boogie boards and beach toys take the turn at 7s on the Atlantic City Expressway, avoiding Atlantic City for the Garden State Parkway South and a coast full of more family-friendly communities from Margate to Cape May. Like me, most have probably not stepped foot into Atlantic City for years. And if they do, they go to their meeting, show, or casino and then get the hell out of dodge. But their perception of Atlantic City as dirty, crime-ridden and all-adult may be wrong, or at least changing, based on my 48-hour stay in AC.

Based on the two-day stay, I humbly make the following suggestions to Atlantic City, in its attempt to rise once again.

Show Families Having Fun

You already have the Casino and Nightlife image, but that appeal is limited and short-lived. Casino goers have more options, and the party crowd grows older, gets married and joins the crowd making the turn at 7s. Start marketing Atlantic City as a family destination. Run commercials showing families holding hands on the boardwalk and having fun in hotel pools. Show kids building sand castles on the beach and riding the boardwalks rides. Those images are powerful and will help change the city’s image.

Show Golfing and Shopping for Dad and Mom

In the ads, show the parents golfing and shopping. Some of the best golf courses in the area are minutes from Atlantic City, including The Atlantic City Country Club, rated the state’s best public course by Golf Styles. The Pier Shops at Caesars has Gucci, Luis Vitton and Tiffany’s. The Tanger Outlets, as you drive into town, have Coach, Calvin Klein and Kenneth Cole. Nothing comes close down the shore.

So to sum up the above two suggestions, an Atlantic City commercial would show kids on the beach, a family on the boardwalk, golfing, shopping, diving into a pool, parasailing, a helicopter ride, dinner at great restaurants, live music and dancing, a big concert and at the end Mom and Dad sharing a glass of wine on a deck over looking the ocean. And not once do you show gambling (because they already know its there.) Now more…

Get Back to Basics

Resorts International Atlantic City has figured out the secret to success – clean hotel and rooms, friendly staff and prompt service. It’s not brain surgery. Resorts AC President and CEO Mark Giannantonio agrees, “We need to get back to the fundamentals, the blocking and tackling of the hotel business, to change the perception of what an Atlantic City Casino looks like.” Color my perception changed.

Market Four-Star Quality at Discount Costs

If you rent a house for a week in Ocean City, Sea Isle, Avalon, etc, it can cost thousands and there are no extras. At Resorts, for instance, you can get a room for about $130 dollars a night and sometimes less. It comes with a pool, shops, beach, restaurants and boardwalk access and it is steps from the rides and games at Steel Pier. The Taj Mahal next door is right across from the rides and has a walkway above the boardwalk. No laundry or cleaning for you, either, as the hotels, of course, come with laundry service, maid service and room service. And parking is $5 dollars.

Build a Water Park

Atlantic City should have the biggest, best water park in the United States back by the bay. I suggest that because the first thing my 10-year old asked when we were driving there was, “Do they have a water park?” I answered, “Of course they do.” They don’t. Why not? A water park would attract families from all over and they would see that Atlantic City is a family destination.

Change the Boardwalk Stores

Get rid of some of the fortunetellers and massage parlors and replace them with shore food and snacks, arcades and miniature golf. Atlantic City doesn’t have to become the Ocean City boardwalk, nor should it try. Ocean City’s moniker is America’s Greatest Family Resort, Atlantic City should have the best of both worlds, family and adult entertainment. Right now, it is still a little short on the family part.

Implement Beach Tags

This is the most controversial of the proposals, but important. If the beaches are to be family-friendly, you need to get rid of the homeless sleeping on the beach and the drunken men who come off the boards to dive in the water with their jeans on. Checking for beach tags is an easy way to do just that. It will also raise extra revenue for a cash-strapped city. Casino-hotels could buy tags in bulk at a season rate and give them to guests with a room deposit. The biggest problem is that poorer families who live in Atlantic City year-round deserve free access. To solve that problem, there should also be designated city beaches, much like city parks, open to all for free.

Atlantic City hurt Las Vegas when Resorts opened in Atlantic City on May 26th, 1978. Other AC casinos quickly followed. It took Las Vegas years to change its image and regain its title as  king of casino gambling. A Las Vegas Sun article reminds, “After flirting with family-friendly attractions in the 1990s, Las Vegas embraced its roots as an adult playground, cementing its image as a brief, whirlwind escape for adults rather than a place to spend a leisurely week with a family.” Atlantic City tried to play catch-up with shows and shops, but it’s not working.

It is time to change strategy.

The concept that failed for Las Vegas in the ’90s can work for Atlantic City now. Families were never going to head to Nevada, but they already head to the Jersey Shore by the tens of thousands. They just avoid Atlantic City. In reality, the city is already family-friendly and becoming more so, but that’s not the perception of most. My perception has already changed and my family is already planning a return for an extended visit. Maybe with a few changes and a new marketing campaign, Atlantic City can make perception match reality for everyone else too. Or just drive past the Garden State Parkway exit and see for yourself.

Maybe I’ll see you poolside.

Heading to A.C.? Tell @LarryMendte on Twitter.

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  • Joe Jones

    Spot on. Now to convince the city management, casino execs, and others who think they know what they’re doing but, judging from the current state of affairs, don’t.

    • Larry Mendte

      They are good people who want the best for the city and their properties. Sometimes you just need an outsider to show you what you are missing.

      • john

        Water park is a great idea, but the city needs ideas from September to may that will attract business.

        • John Qualteria

          Indoor/Outdoor Waterpark. Like Larry said, the biggest on the East Coast. Imagine riding the lazy river in February under a glass dome, looking at the lights change on the Borgata. Google Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos.

  • Gary Stein

    Cutting and pasting ad infinitum ” “Once again!!!!! I”m forced to copy and paste my A+++ idea to revamp Atlantic City AND Chris Christie’s image all in one. To wit: “Christie, our esteemed Governor, needs to announce for President, right in front of the Revel …… no joke. Take ownership of AC. Set up a headquarters in Revel….there’s lots of unused office space I’m sure. If millionaires and billionaires want this guy as President, he can court them in AC. All of them (fat cats) will take it upon themselves to turn Atlantic City around if they want him (Christie) as President. It’s that simple. An MBA project for the millionaire/billionaire 1% set. They turn AC around; “Bridgegate” goes away; Christie beats Hillary.”

    One small city- one giant leap for Chris Christie. Christie could be the next President using AC as his proving ground. Trenton and public pensions are already invested in the Revel bailout. Court your rich supporters in Atlantic City. Make a silk purse out of sow’s ear.” “

  • tonyb

    Great ideas. Also, add another amusement pier for the kids. Be competitive for the Wildwood crowd.

  • Joseph_S

    Build a water park? They already have one. It’s called the Atlantic Ocean! I thought that people go to the shore for, well… the shore! (the beach and the ocean)

    • Michael Goldman

      There’s a big difference between a water slide and a stationary body of water. Now a wave pool might be redundant but not a water park overall.

      • Rosie

        Have to agree that a waster park is indeed needed. Friendly alternatives like this would capture the spirit of family fun Larry describes.

  • Michael Goldman

    Thank you for actually visiting Atlantic City before writing this. So few “journalists” have done so before writing their opinion pieces. You are spot on about the water park! It would have been perfect in the footprint that Revel now sits, sadly and would have cost the state nothing. But there are one or two great parcels right off the Boardwalk that would still work.

    • Larry Mendte

      Ir was actually my 10 year old son Michael’s idea. When I told him we were going to Atlantic City, he asked, “Do they have a water park?” I said, “I’m sure they do.” When I googled it I found one in Ocean City and Wildwood, but not one in Atlantic City. Family shops, family entertainment is the key to lasting success.

  • Banks

    Larry, the city should hire you as a consultant. You could direct the Atlantic City commercial. Don’t you have like a thousand Emmys? Great ideas. Thanks for caring enough to write this article.

    • Jack Carr

      Great idea.

  • phillysportsfan

    sports betting would help a lot. it’s not family friendly, but it would give the ac casinos an edge over their competitors in other states.

  • Dotcom

    Great suggestions and ideas.
    Kudos to Mr Mendte for bringing journalism back to this website, which
    sadly has turned into amateur hour with the majority of topics posted
    under “NEWS”.
    Refreshing and honest.

  • thegreengrass

    How about promoting NJTransit’s Atlantic City line, whose round trip to and from 30th Street station, at $20 (and cheaper from NJ towns), is cheaper than most parking you’ll find on the island? http://www.njtransit.com/var/var_servlet.srv?hdnPageAction=SummerACRLTo

    • Larry Mendte

      Thanks. Great thought. I had no idea it was that inexpensive. Of course, then you have to pay for the parking at 30th street.

      • thegreengrass

        Not if you walked or biked. :) And even if you took public transit of some other form to get there, it’d still be less than parking down there in a lot of cases. And if you’re getting the train from a New Jersey town, parking’s free, I believe. It is in Cherry Hill, anyway.

  • Megan

    I’ve been saying this for years. Turn a casino into a great wolf lodge. I’m born and raised in cape May county and go to del and Lancaster pa for family getaways. Our family was hard hit from the ressesion and adult get ways are far a few but we will spend the money do do things with and for the children. Times have changed and kids run everything. The days of parents spending on themselfs are over. I won’t spend 100 dollers on my sneakers but I do for my kids. I don’t spend 600$ on a weekend with my husband but I do for the kids. Just like all my friends do. Turn a casino into a standing cruise ship lol with kids clubs and all and watch AC change.