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Hard Times Hit the Blackjack Table

We were talking Monday about the unexpected effects of the foreclosure crisis, like skateboarders in California taking advantage of empty swimming pools behind vacant homes to practice their craft. Here’s another: Gambling is falling in popularity as more people choose instead to pay their bills, Bloomberg reports. That means tough times for Atlantic City, where the gambling industry had been booming for the nearly three decades.

From Bloomberg:

After 28 years of growth, Atlantic City’s gambling proceeds are down for the second time in a row. In the first 11 months of 2008, revenue from casino games fell 6.7 percent to $4.2 billion, regulators reported Dec. 10. Last year’s 5.7 percent decline was the first ever, as the number of visitors slipped to 33.3 million from 34.5 million.

You might think this is no big deal. Most of the people who gamble probably shouldn’t, so if the economy forces them to quit the habit, so much the better. The only problem is that New Jersey and many other states need that gambling revenue, and its loss will add to already difficult budget problems.

Again, from Bloomberg:

The slowdown comes as Governor Jon Corzine has warned that the state faces a revenue shortfall of $1.2 billion for the year ending June 30 and $5 billion in fiscal 2010. Through November, the state collected $338 million in Atlantic City tax revenue, down from $364 million and $384 million, respectively, in the first 11 months of 2007 and 2006. Casino employment fell to 39,137 in November from more than 42,000 as recently as August and a peak of 51,560 in July 1997. James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, said the casino industry is vital for the economy of southern New Jersey and for the tax revenue it generates.“It’s possible Atlantic City is past its peak,” said Hughes, who predicted the situation may worsen next year. “It could never go back to its past glory. It’s a much tougher game now.”

That’s true everywhere these days, and now it’s hit the blackjack table as well.

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