An Atlantic City renaissance?
The decline of Atlantic City, New Jersey, over the past couple of decades is well-documented. When you search for “Atlantic City woes,” you’ll get over 5.6 million results on Google. Yeah, to many folks, this place, in the words of President Donald Trump (who played a part in this city’s decline), had turned into a “shithole.”
Guess what? It’s actually making a comeback of sorts. The first story that is listed in the aforementioned Google search featured a headline that read, “Atlantic City rebounds and construction abounds.”
Tonight’s fight card from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (which, at one time, was the Trump Taj Mahal) featuring Sergey Kovalev and Dmitry Bivol defending their light heavyweight titles in separate bouts (HBO, 10 p.m. ET / PT), is actually selling well. No seriously; it is…
Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events (which is staging this event), believes Atlantic City is in for a renaissance. She said last month, while in Los Angeles, “With the beginning of sports betting, which is going to begin next week, it’s going to change everything.”
And with the ability to wager on sporting events, like in Las Vegas, the impact will be very obvious.
“More people are going to go there,” she stated. “Look, in the summer, it is always full of people. There’s never been a time when it wasn’t but, once we get past September, you’re going to see people coming down every weekend for the NFL games, which gives us an opportunity to perhaps put fights on in those venues, the night before. It all goes hand-and-glove. It’s very nice.”
Back in the 1880s and into the ’90s, Atlantic City rivaled Las Vegas, in terms of being a boxing hub, and hosted numerous championship bouts of note (such as Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks and Evander Holyfield-George Foreman). Former world middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik and, most notably, Arturo Gatti became franchises there.
However Atlantic City last hosted a “big fight” back in 2014, when Kovalev faced Bernard Hopkins at the Boardwalk Hall, and this market just seemed dead. This wasn’t the place Nucky Thompson once knew.
“I honestly believed that the city was going to have to go through a period of creative destruction, if you will. It was too big; there were too many casinos. They had been very badly kept; everything started to implode particularly after 2008, when the economy cratered. People weren’t going there anymore,” explained Duva, who still feels Atlantic City wasn’t going the way of the City of Atlantis.
“The fact is there’s this beautiful ocean there, and there’s all this history and you knew, at some point, people were picking up these casinos at fire sale prices and now they had the money to fix them up and make them nice again. The Hard Rock, where we’re going to go down to, they have taken the old Taj Mahal and they have completely transformed it. You won’t even recognize it.
“It’s fantastic; it’s beautiful, and everybody is going to want to come and see that. Hard Rock’s a great brand. Everybody is going to want to be a part of it.”
It wasn’t that long ago when the Revel Resort was closing its doors less than a few years after opening, and hosting a few boxing events. “Well, the Revel’s been taken over by somebody; they’re opening up again this week too,” Duva pointed out last month. “What makes it different is sports gambling, being able to go down there and bet on games. It’s going to change everything.”
Yeah, this could be a game changer.
“The state of New Jersey had decided quite awhile ago, a few years ago, that they wanted to do this. They were waiting on this decision from the Supreme Court. That decision came down a few weeks ago. They’re opening up the sports books in a couple of weeks,” continued Duva, a Jersey girl, who was saddened by the possibility that Atlantic City could be a dead market for boxing. This city had been an important facet of the company since its inception.
Duva explained, “Main Events was incorporated like three weeks after the referendum was passed in New Jersey to create casino gambling. My husband Dan did that, at the time, for a reason. It’s not a coincidence. He recognized the opportunity that was there. There was a point early on in the early ’80s; there were 400 shows a year down there. We did a great deal of business there. There were weeks we were doing two, three shows in the same week there, going down the Boardwalk to another hotel on Saturday after doing a show on Friday night.
“So yeah, it was a fabric of our company from the start up till the run that Arturo Gatti had there – nine sell-outs in a row. We tried to keep it going with Sergey. We did 10,000 people for Hopkins but, at that point, the casinos were going into bankruptcy one after another. They couldn’t bring us there anymore.”
Over the past year or so, there has been a bustling club scene in Atlantic City, with cards that have been televised on the “ShoBox” series. On August 18, Top Rank will be utilizing the Oceans Resort Casino for a card.
So will this city go bust (again) anytime soon?
“Again they built too many casinos; they let the ones that were built originally, hastily, when the casino referendums went through, fall into disrepair. You’ve got to run a business with an eye, not just towards the bottom line, all the time, but thinking about the future. And unfortunately these casinos started to be run by accountants who were trying to pay down the debt service because the corporations – a certain person who runs the country now – were taking up bonds and bankrupting the casinos with it,” said Duva.
“Now they’re going to start over and you’ve got innovative young companies like Hard Rock, who are going to come there with a lot of executives who were there at the birth of Atlantic City.”
The venue for tonight’s card (which will be televised on HBO) holds around 6,000. Duva believes they will have a sell-out.
Jim Boone of KO Tickets tells UCNLive.com, “I think they’ve done pretty good, overall. They have to be pretty happy with it. and I think with New Jersey getting sports betting back, I think they’ll have a monster fall, as far as football and people being in the city. I think it changes the dynamics of it completely.”
You can listen to what Bivol and his manager Vadim Kornilov had to say during their in-studio visit with Mario Lopez and me, on this week’s episode of “The 3 Knockdown Rule”:
Steve Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. He also shares photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.