Staff & Wire Reports | For much of the last 30 years, the casino experience in Atlantic City has involved sand, sea gulls and the Boardwalk.
Now in an effort to survive withering competition from Pennsylvania and New York slots parlors, the city is considering expanding casino gambling into areas that were never envisioned when gambling was approved here in the 1970s.
The City Council last week approved changes to its master plan that will rezone parts of Route 30 to allow construction of a casino on the site of a former oil depot.
About a mile from the Boardwalk and only slightly closer than that to the three marina district casinos, the proposed gambling hall would be built by Penn National Gaming in an area currently known best for traffic jams and sewage odors.
The vote came after two dozen residents of the nearby Venice Park neighborhood urged the council to reject the plan, or at least defer it until Penn National officials could meet further with homeowners.
"The major problem will be traffic. Sometimes in the morning and evening, its extremely hard to get into and out of Venice Park. And thats without this casino, said Mike Johnson, vice president of the Venice Park Civic Association.
Matthew Glass, another neighborhood resident, voiced a commonly heard complaint: that there are plenty of other vacant sites within existing casino zones where a new project could be built.
"With all the current development in Atlantic City, I cant fathom why you would want to put it so close to a residential neighborhood, he said. "The residents of Venice Park do not want a casino in their backyard.
Representative or several unions, however, supported the plan, saying it would bring badly needed jobs to Atlantic City.
And George Miller, an attorney for Penn National, said the company is flush with cash and ready to build, unlike many struggling casino operators or would-be operators in Atlantic City.
"They can build this project with cash, he said. "Were talking about spending $2 billion.
He said residents concerns about traffic will be addressed as the proposal makes it way through numerous levels of government.
Out-of-state competition forced Atlantic City to remake itself and focus on more affluent gamblers who demand luxury hotels.