What they wanted was Monte Carlo. They didn’t want Las Vegas. What they got was Las Vegas. We always knew that they would get Las Vegas.
– Stuart Mendelson, Philadelphia Journal
Atlantic City, on Absecon Island just off the midpoint of the Jersey shoreline, has been a tourist magnet since 1854, when Philadelphia speculators created it as a rail terminal resort. In 1909, at the peak of the seaside town’s popularity, Baedeker wrote “there is something colossal about its vulgarity” – a glitzy, slightly monstrous quality that it sustains today. The real-life model for the modern version of the board game Monopoly, it has an impressive popular history, boasting the nation’s first boardwalk (1870), the world’s first Ferris wheel (1892), the first colour postcards (1893) and the first Miss America Beauty Pageant (1921 – it only moved to Las Vegas in 2006). During Prohibition and the Depression, Atlantic City was a centre for rum-running, packed with speakeasies and illegal gambling dens. Thereafter, in the face of increasing competition from Florida, it slipped into a steep decline, until desperate city officials decided in 1976 to open up the decrepit resort to legal gambling, now its mainstay. The city also has a huge Latino population.