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Article: A Brief History of Atlantic City - The East Coast’s Las Vegas

A Brief History of Atlantic City - The East Coast’s Las Vegas

Most gambling enthusiasts have some knowledge about the history of casino gambling in Las Vegas, Nevada. What gambling enthusiasts don't know much about is the history of casino gambling in another U.S. city on the other side of the country. That would be Atlantic City, which is often referred to as the "East Coast's Las Vegas."

A Little Casino Gambling History About Las Vegas

It's natural for people to want to compare and contrast the two main casino gambling meccas in America. Of course, those meccas would be in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Before taking a look at Atlantic City, it makes sense that a Las Vegas casino gambling history lesson would be in order. After all, Atlantic City is called the East Coast's Las Vegas. It's not the other way around. 

Las Vegas was founded as a railroad town in the early 1900s. Located in the middle of low deserts adjacent to the West Coast, life was sparse throughout the area. Since the Nevada gambling laws were quite liberal, visitors had access to a slot machine or two when stopping for a beer.

It wasn't until the 1940s that someone saw the potential of this barren land called Las Vegas. It's mafia member Bugsy Siegal who is often credited with having the vision of introducing a casino gambling mecca in the desert. 

It was a bold initiative that ended up costing millions of dollars for the first hotel/casino property on the Strip. It might have also cost Siegal his life. However, it was an initiative that eventually turned into solid gold. 

The first Las Vegas hotel/casino resort was the El Rancho Vegas (1941). Other casinos were opening around the same time in what is today referred to as the "downtown" area. With that said, it was Siegal's Flamingo Hotel and Casino (1947) that redefined what a hotel/casino resort was all about. The Flamingo was more than a hotel and casino. It was an entertainment mecca for adults who longed to see celebrities and enjoy the bright lights in the desert. 

Today, more than 60 significant casino properties are operating in the city of Las Vegas.

A Little Casino Gambling History About Atlantic City

The casino gambling history of Las Vegas is relevant to an article about the casino gambling history of Atlantic City. Why? Las Vegas served as the model by which Atlantic City came to be. 

The area that is known as Atlantic City (AC) New Jersey is located on a small island called Absecon Island. It rests along the Atlantic Ocean to the south of New York.

When AC was being converted into an East Coast transportation hub in the late 1800s, hotels started popping up for the convenience of travelers. To keep visitors from tracking sand into the hotels, the historic Boardwalk was built to separate the ocean from the hotel lobbies. 

As food stands and carnival rides/games started popping up along the Boardwalk, AC was quickly branded as the "World's Favorite Playground." The only thing that was missing was a way to keep adults entertained through the night and into the mornings.

Through much of the 1900s, the AC government turned a blind eye when it came to certain illegal gambling activities that were controlled by organized crime syndicates. It wasn't until 1974 that the residents and voters of New Jersey gave a thumbs up to retail casino gambling in certain parts of the state. Along the Boardwalk was most certainly the target of the initiative.

By the 1980s, Vegas-style hotel/casino resorts started popping up on the west side of the Boardwalk. First up was the Del Webb’s Claridge and Hi-Ho Casino in 1981. That was followed by The Playboy Hotel & Casino a year later. 

Not one to miss out on a major opportunity related to real estate, it was former U.S. President Donald Trump who was waiting in the wings to open up what would become a series of Trump-owned AC casino properties. His top properties included the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino (1984) and the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort (1990).

It was the era that marked the beginning of the East Coast's Las Vegas. Initially, it looked like Las Vegas without the bright lights of the Strip. The games were the same. Big-name celebrities provided entertainment. What was different was AC appealed to the staunch East Coast casino gamblers who had no desire to travel west to play casino games of chance. 

Today, AC is ruled by popular casino brands like Bally's, Borgata, and MGM-Boyd Gaming. More so than Las Vegas, AC's casino community has struggled as surrounding states have been legalizing retail and online casino gambling alternatives. This includes, popular “bonus offer” sites like However, it's still Atlantic City, a casino gambling mecca with a rich history in American lore. 

While the lines have been blurred a bit between Las Vegas and Atlantic City, one fact remains. True AC gambling enthusiasts will never travel from the ocean to the desert.

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