NO MATTER how you feel about legal casinos, it's hard to argue there's seldom a dull moment when it comes to our regional gambling industries. And that was especially true during the past 12 months. It seemed that news - good and bad - was being made in Atlantic City and Pennsylvania on a daily basis. So, for the final column of 2010, let's recap.
And the big story is . . .
This was a tough call, but given the four-year soap opera that was the Foxwoods project, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's revocation of Foxwoods' license this month was the most significant casino-related occurrence this year.
It illustrated the mistake the state's gambling poobahs made when they mandated a gambling den on a stretch of Columbus Boulevard that made no sense for various reasons.
It gave a victory of sorts to the anti-casino forces that took a big hit when SugarHouse Casino opened.
And it was a big middle-finger salute to three local mahoffs - lead investors Ed Snider, Lewis Katz and Ronald Rubin - who, we surmise, are not used to hearing the word "no."
Rollin' (and dealin')
on the river
On Sept. 23, while Foxwoods was in the home stretch toward its ultimate crap-out, SugarHouse opened on the banks of the Delaware River just north of Spring Garden Street.
Of course, this being Philly, it made no sense to talk about the hundreds of thousands of visitors who thus far have gambled there without incident. Instead, major deals were made of a couple patron robberies - as if street crime had never before sullied our city.
Another reason casinos are evil
Public scolds and anti-casino blowhards likewise had a field day when a handful of parents were busted leaving their kids in the parking lot at Parx in Bensalem.
Again, the patrons who did this were an infinitesimal fraction of the total number of customers. And it's not like this crime (awful as it is) was unknown before casino gambling was introduced. We're sure at least once in history, a parent has left a child unattended to go into a Wawa or a mall or a bar or a crack house.
But because it happened at a casino, look out!
At your (full) service
This year saw the implementation of table games (blackjack, craps, poker and such) in Pennsylvania, which, of course, helped make 2010 . . .
Another lousy year
Despite its high-end restaurants, big-name entertainers, spas and more, Atlantic City continued to be pummeled by the one thing it can't offer tens of millions of people - convenience gambling. So it was that 12 more months of double-digit revenue drops splashed red ink throughout the seaside resort.
Glimmers of hope?
Not that things were all bad along the Great Wood Way. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called a Hail Mary and proposed sweeping changes that, among other things, would institute cost-saving regulatory changes and have tourism districts overseen by the state rather than the historically inept and corrupt city government.
The proposed legalization of Internet and sports betting is also part of what appears to be One Last Chance for Atlantic City to return to past glories. However, these strategies face multiple layers of opposition, starting with the federal government's apparent determination to keep sports wagering illegal in all but four states.
More immediate and concrete good news was this month's purchase of Resorts Atlantic City by Gomes Gaming Inc., headed by veteran casino exec Dennis Gomes. No one believes Gomes on his own can reverse years of citywide financial misfortune, but in a place like AyCee at a time like right now, you find your rays of sunshine wherever you can. Gomes' track record suggests he can at least turn around the fortunes of the first legal casino to open outside Nevada.
With a new name (Resorts Casino Hotel), a new "Roaring '20s" theme and plenty of out-of-the-box thinking anticipated in marketing, it hardly seems like the worst bet in town.
And let's not forget 2010 was the year Atlantic City's wild and woolly past came to the fore thanks to HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," starring Steve Buscemi as a fictionalized version of early-20th-century vice czar Nucky Johnson.
For the first time, historical tourism entered the AyCee mix as the town began highlighting its naughty, bawdy past.
Upset of the year
Along with Resorts, the Atlantic City Hilton has been, financially speaking, on the critical list for several years. But that didn't keep the westernmost gaming hall from being, in our opinion, the Casino of the Year.
The Hilton earned the accolade because of a summer season that saw a redesign of its dining area and the introductions of a new steakhouse (Simon Prime from celeb chef Kerry Simon); Ono, a wonderful new Asian/fusion eatery; and a really cool burger bar (Nick's).
But Chief Operating Officer Michael Frawley and his minions really lapped the field with their summertime "Speaker Series" that brought in former President Bill Clinton, Fox News superstars Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck and big-time political pontificators Ann Coulter and James Carville.
Too bad health problems kept the September attraction, former Vice President Dick Cheney, from appearing.
That's show biz
Pennsylvania may have the revenue, but Atlantic City remains a show-business mecca. While knock-your-socks-off bookings were down because of the sour financial picture down there, 2010 had plenty of moments to remember on its stages.
For instance, although pop music's biggest star, Lady Gaga, canceled an early January Borgata date, she did celebrate Independence Day with a Boardwalk Hall rave-up.
Other A-listers who passed through town included Justin Bieber, Barry Manilow, Toby Keith, Phish and Aerosmith, all of whom played Boardwalk Hall. Outside the auditorium, Borgata again dominated the scene with Kings of Leon, Conan O'Brien, Jay-Z, Bob Dylan and Adam Lambert.
LOTSA LAUGHS: Giggles and guffaws were easy to come by as a veritable army of comics worked AyCee showrooms, especially those at Borgata.
These included Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld (his funniest performance in recent memory), the always rib-torturing Howie Mandel and "The Marriage Ref" host Tom Papa, who, after years of opening in town for Seinfeld, made it to headliner status last month.
We also enjoyed two avatars of "redneck" comedy, Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall, in separate gigs at Resorts.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR: Motown Legend Diana Ross had pretty much dropped off the radar most of the past decade, but she hit Caesars Atlantic City in May with a spectacular set that explained how she came by her exulted place in pop culture.
ROOKIES OF THE YEAR: The You Tube-created a cappella sensation Straight No Chaser spent the summer at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City - a perfect warm-weather attraction.
And although she lost her "American Idol" judging gig, composer Kara Dioguardi's autobiographical turn at Borgata was unexpectedly entertaining.
Best show you never saw
"The Godfadda Workout," a tough-to-describe one-man take-off of/homage to "The Godfather" starring Seth Isler, was exactly the different, one-of-a-kind presentation Atlantic City needs to make its bones as a true entertainment destination.
But it only got through several weeks of a planned summer run at Bally's before management whacked it over poor ticket sales. Too bad. There's no doubt word-of-mouth would have ultimately made it a hit.
A final thought
From me and mine to you and yours, best wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous - and lucky! - 2011.
Chuck Darrow has been covering Atlantic City and casinos for over 20 years. Read
Saturdays at 1:45 a.m. with Steve Trevelise on WIP (610-AM) and 3:05 p.m.
on Atlantic City's WOND (1400-AM) with Marc Berman.