ATLANTIC CITY Boardwalk Hall glittered and the 53 Miss America contestants looked gorgeous on prime-time TV last Sunday.
The two-hour ABC telecast garnered its best ratings in nine years, according to pageant officials, with close to 10 million viewers at its peak. There were countless news clips and TV segments that chronicled the pageant's much-ballyhooed return to her birthplace. Contestants appeared on the Today show and Good Morning America.
But did this gaming-revenue-starved resort really cash in on Miss America enough to justify the millions of dollars in subsidies the pageant received from the city and state to ditch Las Vegas and come home?
City tourism officials projected $40 million to $45 million in total economic impact from Miss America, with about half of that from consumers' direct spending in Atlantic City.
In terms of bringing in large crowds (about 200,000 for the "Show Us Your Shoes" parade) and showcasing the city on a national stage, they say Miss America delivered a home run. But not so much as far as gambling dollars.
All the people, "I don't think, translated into gaming numbers," said Liza Cartmell, head of the nonprofit Atlantic City Alliance, which markets the resort. "This was not a gaming crowd."
Only two-thirds of the 12,000 tickets available for the show at Boardwalk Hall were sold, she said.
Other figures, including casino hotel occupancies, were just starting to filter in and wouldn't be available for weeks for a full analysis. The pageant and its two-week run-up were expected to generate a total of 5,000 to 6,000 room nights here. Whether that was met has yet to be determined.
But Miss America was a hit with restaurateurs and merchants. The crowds typically disappear after Labor Day here, and many said it was like having an extra week of summer. Clerks at the struggling Pier Shops at Caesars said they saw heavier traffic last weekend.
"Miss America was a great show for Atlantic City," said Frank Dougherty, 48, owner of Dock's Oyster House, Knife and Fork Inn, and Harry's Oyster Bar at Bally's Casino. He said all three were "very busy" last weekend.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority reported a 2 percent increase in traffic on the Atlantic City Expressway last Saturday, compared with the same Saturday a year ago. The rise was attributed to the "Show Us Your Shoes" parade and other events.
More than half of the dozen casinos here - including Resorts and Tropicana - reported larger-than-normal crowds, and their hotels were at capacity by the time the parade rolled around Sept. 14. But those in the city's Marina District, including market leader Borgata, saw little impact.
"While I am sure the Boardwalk properties saw visitation increase with the parade and the pageant, Borgata did not see significant impact from the event," said Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations at Borgata.
But perhaps Miss America delivered where it mattered most for her existence.
"Best ratings in nine years!" exclaimed Sam Haskell 3d, chairman and chief executive of the Miss America Organization, after Nielsen ratings came out Tuesday. It was the pageant's fourth show on ABC after brief stints on cable. ABC dropped Miss America after the 2004 pageant - the last one in Atlantic City - over low ratings. The network picked it up again in 2011. Last Sunday's pageant broke into the top 10 shows for the week for the first time in 15 years.
No small feat considering Miss A had to compete against the boys - NBC's Sunday Night Football (Seattle vs. San Francisco) and a CBS special on the Manning brothers (Peyton and Eli) going head-to-head (Broncos vs. Giants) that aired opposite the pageant documentary, The Road to Miss America.
"I was thrilled with every aspect of Miss America's triumphant return to Atlantic City," Haskell said by e-mail.
The city and New Jersey kicked into overdrive to lure Miss America back after seven years in Vegas. Her contract to return here included $7.3 million in subsidies over three years.
"The subsidy to bring Miss America back home was well worth the investment," Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford said last week. "It was used to defray production costs, hire workers, build sets."
Langford said the actual for public safety and public works would soon be available.
Cartmell acknowledged that a significant number of those who attended the parade were locals who didn't book rooms. But more important, she said, Miss America was part of the bigger objective of making Atlantic City a year-round destination.
Gaming has waned as the big draw here. The 12 casinos - nine of which sit on the Boardwalk - have lost more than $2 billion in gambling revenue since 2006 to Pennsylvania, New York, and other states. Miss America finally gave them a positive story.
"Miss America returned home to where it all began and with it new visitors and families packed our hotels, experienced our Boardwalk, and enjoyed our amenities," said Kevin Ortzman, senior vice president and general manager for Caesars, Bally's, and Showboat. "The event was an unmitigated success."
Rolling-chair operator Gregg Stamm, 50, made out. He shuttled pageant volunteers and contestants' entourages during preliminaries. "That Wednesday, I made in two hours - $80 - what I usually make in 10," he said.
On Wednesday, with Miss America long gone, Stamm had four rides in 10 hours.
Some storefronts on the Boardwalk, including Empire Burger of Atlantic City, lost business during the parade from 5 to 9 p.m. because they were boxed in by chairs. But the burger stand made up for it before and afterward.
"There were so many people here from one end of the Boardwalk to the other," said cashier Brianna Hess, 18, of Somers Point. "It was like summer all over again."