The government of New Jersey plans to take over Atlantic City and run it as a "tourist zone". The city, according to Gov. Christie, "is dying". Having just been in Atlantic City for the first time in many years, I can attest to the governor's perception. This is a terrible city. Gambling has not helped.
Atlantic City was once called "America's Playground". It was where the World War II generation went on vacation. The boardwalk had grand hotels. People got dressed up to "walk the boards". Clubs boasted concerts by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, and other great entertainers. The 1960s and later were not kind to Atlantic City. The "baby boomers" abandoned the resort for other, more attractive places. Political corruption was rampant. The city decayed and the poverty and crime levels increased.
When gambling was introduced to AC in 1978, it was designed to save a dying city. It also was expected to generate needed tax dollars for the state. At the time, AC and Nevada's cities were the only legalized gambling centers in the US. Slowly, gambling was introduced on American Indian lands. Next came slot machines, which many states introduced. Recently, a number of states, particularly Delaware and Pennsylvania, which border New Jersey passed legislation to allow table games. Even the slot machines were taking business from AC. Now, with table games, the competition is head-on and AC will likely be further hurt by those who no longer have to go to this awful city to gamble.
Now, from a brand perspective, let's understand what Atlantic City's primary attributes are: gambling, entertainment and the ocean. The boardwalk was a major attraction, but it is so seedy that few really want to walk it very far. Each of these attributes can easily be duplicated in other locations. Gov. Christie wants AC to attract families who want to come to the beach and also have the other things available. But, the entire coast of NJ is comprised of beach towns, most far more attractive for families than AC.
So, where does this leave Atlantic City? While Gov. Christie, a Republican, decries government run enterprises, he has put in place a government take over of a community--ergo the gaming business. This may be unavoidable given how far AC has fallen, but it likely will prove to be a major failure. To revive a dying brand requires a number of things to be in place: 1) that at least a few of the attributes that once made the brand attractive need to still resonate with the target; 2) that there is still a competitive space available; and 3) that the infrastructure is capable of handling the brand. I do not see where AC has the ability to be revived. The attributes of attraction have been lost on at least a generation. Those who recall AC fondly are those 60+years of age. They may be drawn once, but I cannot imagine regular returns. The infrastructure of the city is broken and corrupt. I cannot imagine the state offering better management. And, as noted, the competitive space has shrunk.
Brands are easier to build than they are to change. AC has gained a solid, negative reputation, long entrenched as a dirty, crime-filled community not attractive to most people. Getting people to change their views of AC would be one thing if there were few alternatives. With a growing number of alternatives, the attractiveness needs to be overwhelming. I can imagine lots of specials and a wonderful ad campaign--lots of money to be spent. All I can say is "good luck".