Atlantic City's 'gold rush' -- casino boom draws a crowd

Atlantic city's Boardwalk covered with a red carpet? It may happen. Some hotel operators, caught up in the initial flush of success that casino gambling has brought to this old seaside resort, are promising to do just that to the rickety but famous 60-foot-wide structure.

Other signs of the boomtown atmosphere that legalized gambling has brought to Atlantic City:

* Eager job seekers pour in by the hundreds every week.

* Exactly half of the 16 applicants for casino licenses have never been in the casino business before, according to New Jersey Casino Control Commission (CCC), which is in charge of issuing those licenses.

* Dozens of current or former state officials are in the process of going to work for casino operators, joining dozens of Atlantic City municipal workers who have already done so. State insurance commissioner James Sheeran is scheduled to resign next month to become counsel to the city's casino- hotel association. Former state attorney general Arthur Sills is taking a job with Bally Inc., which has opened a Boardwalk casino.

* Besides the hundreds of job seekers, many of whom are hired only to be fired shortly thereafter because they cannot be properly trained, an equal number of professional and novice gamblers drift into town to wager their money at the three casinos that are open so far.

Reportedly, one gambler (said to be an officer of a New Jersey bank) sought out Bally president William Weinburger to tell how he had "dropped" $21,000 at the card tables in Bally's Park Place Casino. "But I'm not worried," the gambler reportedly added. "I'll sell one box car load of copper and I'll be even."

* Gamblers Anonymous, a nationwide organization dedicated to helping compulsive gamblers, has opened a branch office here. But many of those who don't find their way to GA or other organizations with a similar purpose -- or who otherwise don't stop gambling in time -- end up seeking refuge at the local Salvation Army headquarters. As a result, the Salvation Army is running out of room to house them.

But against this background, some critics already are predicting a bust cycle will hit "Las Vegas east" within a few years.

Currently, 40 casinos are planned here. But the construction of many of these may not begin until New York State, and perhaps Pennsylvania as well, has legalized casino gambling in at least some areas.

"There will come a point when business will go down," says Arnold Wexler, vice- president of the National Council on Compulsive Gambling. "There's going to be some people vying for a share of the gambling dollar. Some of them are not going to make it."

Mr. Wexler says even now the casino business in Nevada has taken a downturn because of growing competition from Atlantic City.

But a top executive of Holiday Inns Inc. disagrees. One of the chief reasons for his chain's investment in casinos is that the gaming industry nationwide "is still young and is on the threshold of major expansion," executive vice-president Richard J. Geoglein says. Moreover, the "return on invested capital for well-run operations is excellent," he adds.

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