The Casino File: Legal weed can return high times to Atlantic City; new machines yield big hits at Ocean
Casinos have the opportunity to turn a green plant into greenbacks. But will they have the vision — and guts — to take advantage of it?
In November, 1976, New Jersey voters saved a decaying, defeated Atlantic City by legalizing casino gaming there. Forty-four years later they may have done it again — providing those legal casinos realize — and act on it.
Last week’s historic balloting in favor of legal recreational marijuana for people 21 and older couldn’t have come at a better time for AyCee, whose nine gambling dens have been taking it on the financial chin since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic late last winter. While there is nothing that can help improve the situation until the deadly virus is proven to be under control, the casinos can absolutely capitalize on legalization and should immediately begin planning for that day.
There is no question that states including Colorado and Washington have benefitted from so-called pot tourism — visits by out-of-staters who travel there specifically to experience the buying and consuming of weed without fear of arrest and prosecution. With its casino-hotel infrastructure, Atlantic City is well-positioned to accommodate such visitors, and not just with beds.
Think of the possibilities: Every casino has at least one under-utilized or never-used space that could be converted into a dedicated cannabis retail outlet and/or lounge. And the marketing opportunities are no-brainers: What country-music-loving stoner wouldn’t want to hang in Willie Nelson’s Grass Roots Room? And hip-hoppers would certainly appreciate chillin’ in Snoop Dogg’s Weed Dome.
And imagine the PR value of an annual marijuana competition like the decades-old contest sponsored by High Times magazine, the Bible of the weed universe.
Legal reefer could also up the town’s culinary game if casinos were to open dining rooms dedicated to cannabis-infused fare. If nothing else, imagine the profits to be had by catering to guests with the munchies.
Of course, the oceanside gaming industry would have to put aside outdated opinions and mores pertaining to cannabis and buy into pot’s potential benefits. To that end, we reached out to Steve Callender of Caesars Entertainment, who chairs the Casino Association of New Jersey, the nine gaming halls’ trade/lobbying organization, but were told it was too early for a public discussion of the subject as the state legislature has yet to define the whys and wherefores of legalization.
At the very least, it’s good to know that AyCee Mayor Marty Small is all-in on legal weed, which he sees as a potent (pardon the pun) economic/social reform engine (even if his recently floated idea that AyCee should have a three-to-five-year monopoly on it makes one wonder what he’s been smoking). If the casinos do decide to take the green plunge, they certainly won’t face any pushback from City Hall — that is, as long as some retail licenses are awarded to minority residents. Should they be held exclusively by casinos or their tenants, that would almost certainly cause problems. But considering so much of the legalization movement has been about social justice, that prospect seems a longshot at best, especially in a minority-majority municipality like Atlantic City.
Bottom line: Atlantic City’s casinos need to recognize the incredible gift given them on Election Day, and to use it to every advantage possible. If not, the chances of the industry’s long-term survival could conceivably go up in smoke.
In Atlantic City
Slots of winners at Ocean
The arrival of six new All Aboard slot machines last Friday at Ocean Casino-Resort resulted in three very happy customers over the weekend.
Just hours after the machines were activated, a player hit a $22,127 jackpot. By weekend’s end, two other players were kissed by Lady Luck and hit for $15,463 and $15,237 respectively.