Atlantic City Bally's Casino

Atlantic City: Two Days Of Losing Money

Derek USA 27 Comments

Atlantic City Beach

Over the past few years, every time I visit my friends in NYC, a most interesting phenomenon has taken place. We’ll be sitting around one random morning, perhaps in the living room of my friends’ apartment or maybe at the funky, yes, I said funky, Tillie’s Brooklyn Cafe, a few blocks away, and we’ll be discussing the usual topics that we discuss during my yearly visits. These topics include our desire to become stand up comedians, our goal of one day owning our own hostel and whether or not walnut raisin cream cheese should legally be allowed to be smeared onto an onion bagel.

However, whatever the topic, there always comes a moment when our conversation, after twisting and turning in every possible direction, suddenly leads to one idea that always seems so brilliant at the time.

And then, 2 hours after that moment of brilliance strikes, the three of us find ourselves in a rented car driving out of NYC through the Lincoln Tunnel and eventually, on to the Garden State Parkway. We’re on our way to Atlantic City, once again.

For those not too familiar with Atlantic City, it can be described as a mini-Las Vegas that is located along the east coast of the US. Ultra popular up until the early 1990s, this city has struggled over the past two decades, and especially in the past 8 years, with the growth of other nearby casinos and dozens of proposed large-scale projects being scrapped due to the recent financial problems in the US. The result is a current day gambling town that consists of somewhat outdated beachfront casinos, a mile-long Boardwalk full of fried dough stands, Chinese massage parlours and what is an incredibly suspicious number of psychics and a local community that appears to suffer from some of the most extreme poverty I’ve seen anywhere in this country.

Interestingly enough, Atlantic City is incredibly multicultural, with Bangladeshi rickshaw drivers trying to eke out a living alongside Korean shop owners, Mexican chefs, Croatian pizza makers, Irish bartenders, Somali delivery men, Filipino and Venezuelan housekeepers, Russian receptionists and Atlantic City born and bred casino dealers.

Atlantic City town

Atlantic City Billboard

Atlantic City lacks the kind of ‘WOW’ factor that even those who dislike Las Vegas can’t help but notice in that town. There is none of that Vegas nightlife (such as the tours offered by Nite Tours) or intensely energetic atmosphere or visually impressive setting in Atlantic City, which shouldn’t be the case given its coastal location and unique Boardwalk. It’s as if this town somehow ruined a perfect opportunity to continue growing as a major destination.

Of course, my friends and I do decide to spend two days here every year so the city must be doing something right I guess.

ATLANTIC CITY: DAY 1

This year’s adventure began at 6:30pm, the moment we checked-in to our hotel. And after a quick two-minute visit to our room, we went right back outside, not so much because we were in the mood to start gambling, but because we were in desperate need of some leg-stretching due to a serious map-reading error on my part during the drive down from NYC which caused the normally two and a half hour journey to take over four hours instead.

So we took a brisk walk along Atlantic City’s famous Boardwalk in order to loosen ourselves up and to release all of that tension from being stuck in a car for so long. Then, after an hour of walking, we suddenly looked at each other, nodded in unison and entered the first casino we came across.

And that’s when I immediately lost $20 at the Taj Mahal Casino.

We then moved next door to Bally’s, where we all proceeded to lose $40 within twenty minutes.

A quick stop at Caeser’s Palace Casino and we had all lost $40 more.

Atlantic City Bally's Casino

With our gambling off to a horrendous start, we all decided to step away from the casinos for a while, which we did by wandering away from the Boardwalk and around the streets of the eerily deserted, and shockingly run down, town of Atlantic City itself.

We did manage to find a small, friendly Mexican restaurant where we ate a silent dinner, all of us nibbling ever so slowly on our quesadillas, not wanting to think about what lie ahead once we finished our meal. But by the time we did finish those quesadillas, as well as our second round of drinks, the three of us began to notice that recognizable, yet inexplicable and very dangerous, boost of confidence, the kind that only appears on a gambling trip. You know the one, that feeling of such invincibility that causes you to run down the street while still wiping cheese and sour cream from your mouth and to then march straight into the Tropicana Casino, walk directly up to the craps table and immediately pull out $100, ready to turn that amount into $1000.

Unfortunately, or perhaps luckily, on this particular night, my confidence fell short in the end and after standing at the craps table for fifteen minutes with that $100 in my hand while doing nothing but trying to get a piece of lettuce out of my teeth, I just shrugged my shoulders and walked away.

And so my first night in Atlantic City came to an end. By 11pm my friends and I were back in our hotel room watching the terrible Laurence Fishburne film, “Predators”, and by midnight, I was sound asleep.

Atlantic City Massage

ATLANTIC CITY: DAY 2

With another full day and night to spend in this city, we all made sure our second day got off to as late a start as possible in order to limit our money losing potential. In fact, it was well after noon before we finally decided to walk to the tiny local diner on Atlantic Street where we always eat breakfast at least once during our yearly trips to this town.

There’s really no better way to make yourself not feel like gambling than to stuff your face with a three-egg omelet and a pile of hash browns. And I am happy to report that this method was once again successful as the only thing I wanted to do after this meal was to sit on the beach and take a nap, which is exactly what I did.

Eventually, however, after an hour on the beach, that false confidence that only the flashing lights and cheesy sounds and gigantic billboards of massive casinos can create, began to creep into my head yet again and the only thing I could think about was winning, and winning big. Thirty minutes later I found myself back inside of the Tropicana Casino and five minutes after that I was back out on the Boardwalk, having lost another quick $20 bucks.

Atlantic City Boardwalk

As you might be able to tell by now, I’m not much of a gambler, and in fact, neither are my friends. The idea of playing craps or blackjack for hours on end does sound slightly appealing but the unappealing thought of possibly (or probably) losing $200 is significantly more intense. As a traveler, it’s difficult not to put things in perspective. Two hundred dollars lost at a casino is two weeks worth of traveling in India or one month’s rent in Thailand or 400 tostadas from my favorite tostada joint in Playa del Carmen.

So it takes a lot to get me to part with my money, which is why I was so surprised when even the above eye-opening monetary comparisons still could not keep me away from the craps table on my second night in Atlantic City.

Of course, as I write this now, I most certainly wish that I had been able to convince myself to stay away as, which I’m sure you could have guessed by now, I wasn’t the most successful of craps players that night. Granted, I had a wonderful time chatting with the team of dealers who turned out to be quite an enjoyable bunch to be around, but, as nice as those guys and gals were, I think I’d probably be willing to give up the friendly chit chat in order to have the money I lost right back in my pocket.

Well, so it goes.

Once again, by midnight, my friends and I were back in the hotel room, however, this time, instead of watching a movie, we decided to juggle bottles of water and build forts out of chairs and blankets. Then, four minutes later, once we became bored of those activities, we went to sleep and another trip to Atlantic City came to another sad end.

Actually, it was only sad until about halfway through our drive back to NYC the following morning when we discovered a satellite radio station that played nothing but short clips from standup comedians, including one of my favorites, Steven Wright. Soon enough, our gambling losses were forgotten and by the time we rolled back into Brooklyn, we couldn’t have been in a better mood, which is why it shouldn’t be a surprise that we have already planned our gambling strategies for next year’s visit to Atlantic City.


Have you been to Atlantic City or any other gambling destinations? Surely there are a few gamblers out there in the crowd…and hopefully you’ve had much better success at it than I have!

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Comments 27

  1. Kaspars

    Hi, Earl. Great post!

    Actually it’s scientifically proven that we think in relative terms. You were back in states so you were making your decisions on “rules” which apply there. I bet you wouldn’t spend 200$ in casino in India, right? 🙂

    There’s really good book about this and related topics: Dan Ariely – Predictably Irrational, author argues that we persistently make irrational decisions even when we have made them before and decided no to do that anymore and tell about that to as many people as possible (by posting their spending on blog for example 🙂

    Ariely has done some good TED talks also.

    Cheers!

    1. Earl

      Hey Kaspars – Thank you for letting me know about that book! It sounds like something I would be very interested in reading. And of course you’re right, not only would I not spend $200 in a casino in India, but I have a hard time paying $20 for a meal, when I’d happily spend that amount for a meal in Europe or the US!

  2. Gray

    That sounds like pretty much every trip I take to Vegas–10 minutes later, another $20 gone. Before you know it I’ve lost a month of groceries. I’m a pretty frugal gambler, though, so I try to fill as much of my time as possible with activities outside the casino so I don’t have enough time to lose too much. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Gray – That’s a good idea to get outside of the casinos as much as possible. And that’s also the biggest problem with Atlantic City because there is literally nothing to do outside the casinos! Not a bad trick to keep us spending money of course 🙂

  3. Julia

    EARL!!! I wish I knew you were in Atlantic City! I used to live in NYC, my sister is still there and at the moment, I am a short drive from Atlantic City and have a family house that literally has not changed one aspect since 1970 – literally. From the towels to the dishes to the appliances, that house feels like we have stepped back into the 70s the moment we enter and it’s an awesome place we stay in when we go to Atlantic City.

    Before I left for Costa Rica, I was at Caesars and was not about to spend any money since I was leaving in a week. After we saw an awesome Zeppelin cover band we went to the craps table. Long story short, an old guy offered me $10 to gamble and within 20 minutes I had $700!

    I wish you had that same luck there! Maybe next time you are in town we can hit the tables together!

    1. Earl

      Hey Julia – That is a shame that we didn’t connect while I was down in Atlantic City! I had no idea you lived so close. Do you ever make it into NYC at all? It looks like I’ll be up there for another couple of weeks if you happen to be in town at all.

      And well done with your craps skills…I will make sure we go to the casino together next time!

      1. Julia

        I am always in NYC. I lived there last year and my sister is still there! My favorite city in the world! Let me know when you are in town and we can all hang out!

  4. Lisa @chickybus

    This post really cracked me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I live in NJ and go to AC once a year or so. Second of all, I usually end up losing. I play Blackjack and do OK and then lose the little I have over at the roulette table. The one time I won real money was when I bought a 50/50 raffle ticket at a flea market and won about $3000. That really put a smile on my face!

    It sounds like you really enjoy the ritual of going to AC and the time you spend with friends there. I think that’s what makes it fun–especially if or when the “house” wins. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Lisa – Your comment made me feel much better. It’s not easy to find someone else out there who goes to AC every now and then 🙂 And you’re spot on about the it being the time spent with friends that is more important than the gambling. We always go assuming that we’re going to lose but at the same time knowing that we’re going to have an excellent time no matter what.

      And well done with that raffle. When I meet up with you next week you’ll have to tell me where this flea market is located!

    1. Earl

      Hey Christian – That makes perfect sense and apart from my yearly visit to Atlantic City, I don’t partake in any form of gambling at all either. In the end, my trips to Atlantic City are more to enjoy a weekend with my friends and much less about the casinos.

  5. Steve

    Earl, I’m surprised you’ve come clean with the divulgence of your gambling bent. But not surprised, as we all have one or more vices that become extravagant splurges upon a Monday morning reflection. Long term travelers are usually tight wads and avoid such budget busters as alcohol, gambling, and expensive hotels & restaurants. After returning from our two year trip around the world, there were many times we also said to each other: “well, that could have been two weeks in India”!

    Over the last few years, my work and family matters have taken me to both Reno and Las Vegas numerous times. I even stayed in several of the casinos, but can truthfully say, I never spent even a nickel on gambling. Which is not to say that it’s not right for others. We all have our ways to have a good time.

    Another way to look at it; you chose to “invest” $400 bucks, while having a good time, in the possibility of hitting it big and never having to “work” for the rest of your life, traveling forever as a guest of the casinos. Some people choose the stock market to do their investing (gambling), but do they have as much fun as you did? Not!

    1. Earl

      Hey Steve – No, no…I think you may have looked too deeply into my post 🙂 I am far from being someone who partakes in much gambling at all. My trips to Atlantic City are just a way to spend a fun weekend with my two closest friends and we chose that destination simply because of its odd and quirky atmosphere. While I may stick some bills in the slot machines, at the end of the day, I do keep my money in my pocket so that I can spend it on much more useful things!

  6. Erin

    We’ve just finished watching Season 1 of Boardwalk Empire set in Atlantic City in the 1920s so I’m quite excited you were there. Obviously it’ll have changed a lot but parts of the boardwalk look quite unchanged.

    1. Earl

      Hey Erin – Interesting you mention that show as I had never heard of it until I was walking along the boardwalk and I saw the ‘set’ of the show, which is basically a wooden facade of the shops located on the Boardwalk. And I’m quite certain that much of the Boardwalk is still the same as it was back then as it sure doesn’t seem like much has been renovated at all for decades. I guess I’ll have to check out that show and see how it matches up!

    1. Earl

      Hey James – Yeah, those are exactly the tostadas I had in mind! That’s alright though, I’ll make sure I always have enough money for a plateful of those tostadas, as well as a few empanadas on the side.

  7. Just Plain Jane

    You describe the experience well and it was interesting to see Atlantic City’s “scenery”. We’re out here in California so Las Vegas and/or Laughlin, NV have been our destinations. I find myself getting very judgmental in casinos. I love to people watch and I find myself thinking, “SHE doesn’t look like the type to gamble” or “HE doesn’t look like someone who’d throw his money away.” We spent one sad Christmas in Vegas. Nowadays I understand it’s very crowded then, but the casino was quite empty at holiday time that year and I kept thinking someone was calling me……”Jane? Jane?”, but it was only the money lady, calling, “Change? Change?”

    1. Earl

      Hey Jane – Atlantic City and Vegas cannot be compared. I thoroughly enjoy a visit to Las Vegas and rarely will I spend any money at the casinos on such trips. But in Atlantic City, there is nothing else to do!

  8. Steve

    Oh boy do I know that false confidence all too well. Good for you guys for not dwelling on the losses too long.
    “Map reading error”? They still sell maps?

    1. Earl

      Hey Steve – Well, when we rented the car, we were given what appeared to be a simple map and so we decided not to check the maps on our phones as the route seemed so easy. Unfortunately, I looked at the wrong route number and so we ended up on the completely wrong road. So maybe all the remaining maps out there should be burned so that such mistakes won’t happen again!

    1. Earl

      Hey Talon – Ha! If Tigger was there he would have probably been a huge help as our fort-building skills are now quite pathetic 🙂

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