This is a diary of my trip across the US with my daughter to start her freshman year at college in New York — and my return trip, too. Read all the entries here.
There are distinct parts of Atlantic City. Borgata is in the Marina district with some other high-end casino/hotels. The famous boardwalk is several miles away, overlooking the beach on the Atlantic Ocean. It is Atlantic City’s version of the Las Vegas strip, but with more sleaze and less polish. I want to get some exercise, so I decide to go over there and take a walk for an hour to see if the boardwalk scene has changed since I was last there some 15 years ago.
It hasn’t changed a bit. The streets that lead to the boardwalk have added some name-brand outlet stores, but a lot of dilapidated and broken-down homes and apartment buildings line the way, as well. Up on the boardwalk, between the casinos, the ambiance is still pure carnival, with arcades and rides on the Steel Pier and rows of shops selling low-rent souvenirs, discount t-shirts, salt water taffy, funnel cake, pizza, hot dogs, soft-serve ice cream, and cheesesteaks. Everyone looks bored, as if the long, hot summer has worn them out. There are storefronts offering psychic readings and several that just say “massage,” with women in the doorway trying to get potential customers to come inside. I notice they’re only beckoning to men, which makes them seem even sordid than they did at first glance. Since I always try to keep my vacations disease-free, I pass.
I wonder if I’ll come across any businesses exploiting “Boardwalk Empire,” and sure enough, I spot Nucky’s Photo Studio, named after the scummy character Steve Buscemi plays on the HBO series. I’m surprised there isn’t a strip club named after the Bada Bing from “The Sopranos.”
Turns out there is a strip club on the boardwalk, but its not named after a TV show, and its façade is surprisingly discreet. Unlike Vegas, where strip clubs advertise on billboards and cab tops, sex is not very out in the open in Atlantic City. Perhaps it’s because the town wants the beach and the boardwalk to be family-friendly. Whatever happens here is more likely to get in the car and drive back to your suburban subdivision with you, so you’re better off getting some flavored crushed ice in a paper cone than a lap dance from a stripper in a g-string.
As I continue my walk, dodging pedicabs and the world’s most fearless seagulls, I come upon the part of the boardwalk where the Sands Casino used to be. I have fond memories of staying in cheap rooms there on my trips up from DC many years ago and didn’t know that it was gone, replaced by a park with a giant fountain. It had a people-mover that took you right into the casino, but the building that served as the entrance is now a substation for the AC police department. One of the cops tells me that the Sands was imploded about 5 years ago. I guess my comp points aren’t good anymore.
Nearby, I pass Bally’s Casino, with signs promoting a revue called “Legends In Concert” with pictures of Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Madonna impersonators, who to my eye don’t look all that much like the stars they’re supposed to be imitating. There are other signs advertising Bally’s “Dealertainers.” I don’t go inside to see, but I’m guessing they are dealers also dressed up as famous people, but without any singing or dancing ability. Or maybe they’re the understudies, the “Legends” minor leagues. Because you want to be dealt a 20 in blackjack and be beaten by a five-card 21 from a dealer who looks like Fat Elvis and sounds like Snooki.
I turn around and walk up to the Taj Mahal, which is now part of Donald Trump’s empire, so I’m not going to spend a nickel there. I could tolerate his blustering arrogant nonsense once, but the political bullshit he’s spewed over the last few years have put him on my Always Avoid list. However, I do want to see what’s happened to the Taj poker room, which used to be the best on the east coast (it was featured in the movie “Rounders”), but has lost a lot of business since Borgata opened and the good games moved there. The room is still huge, but only about 10% full. I check the sign-in board to see what they’re playing — all small buy-in games, mostly limit hold’em ($2-4) and stud ($1-5).
Unlike virtually every other poker room I’ve ever been in, the Taj has very few players under 30 years old. The reason? Atlantic City is one of the few places in America that still plays a lot of stud poker, a game that was left behind in the last decade’s gold rush of televised and online poker. Variants of seven-card stud and five-card draw were the only games most people knew for a long time, but most of us have long since moved on to no-limit hold’em (which looks better and is easier to understand on TV) and pot-limit Omaha. Those who stuck with stud have found their player pool severely diminished, and the average age of players at the Taj looks to be about 70. For that reason, I’m sure the games start in the morning when they wake up and don’t go very late into the night.
Since I wouldn’t sit down at one of Trump’s tables even if they had a game I wanted to play, I check the Bravo Poker Live app on my iPhone and see that Borgata is about to start a $5-5 PLO game. I head for my car and drive back. When I get there, the game is full, so I play $5-10 NLH for an hour until a seat opens up. Around 10pm, when the game gets short-handed, I get up and leave the game a winner (third time in three sessions) and head up to my room to do some writing and watch “The Daily Show” cover the Republican convention.
I expect that to be a Trump-less experience, too.
Mileage thus far: 1,356.