Editorial By James Edstrom

The Empty Atlantic City Boardwalk

I really did not want to write this story. I love Atlantic City and have many good friends there that work at the Casinos. But I have given up on trying to promote a town that just does not get the art of promotion.

Now Times Square Gossip is not the biggest site in the world, but we are reaching 6 million readers and with our syndication on so many other sites, our numbers climb even higher. I have been going to Atlantic City for many years now. When I started Times Square Gossip, I wanted to include Las Vegas, Hollywood, The Hamptons, New York City and Atlantic City. I wanted to promote all the events, and cover them in a fun and exciting way with crisp clear photos. But with Atlantic City, it is just impossible and I am going to try to tell you why, even know it is complicated.

Atlantic City is a small and wonderful town. Everyone knows everyone. There are so many historic places to see besides the casinos. Some of the real gems are off the Boardwalk, like The Irish Pub or Angelo's Fairmount Tavern where the legends of the past have dined.

The casino district was created many years ago with the promise that the dollars made would bring back the city. The promise was that casino gambling would re-create the whole town, not just the Boardwalk. It promised that the money made would rebuild dilapidated buildings and brings jobs to the poverty stricken people. This never happened. The huge corporations built their Casinos and homelessness and poverty continued in Atlantic City. A short walk off the Boardwalk you still see the remains of a town that has been forgotten. The promise made in 1976 when voters in New Jersey approved the Casinos has never been met. And the Casinos are in and out of bankruptcy on a regular basis. The Casinos just can not bring in the people and I am going to tell you why.


They are still marketing the Casinos like they did 30 years ago. They are going after the poor day trippers that take a bus from locations in and around New Jersey. They have the same old slot tournaments , the same old gimmicks and nothing has really changed in so many years. And their Public Relations people are not allowed to do just Public Relations. Many of the publicity people in Atlantic City are expected to do marketing and 10 other things with just about no support staff to help them. They are told to do the marketing, send out the slot tournaments and most of the time they have no time to promote the celebrities that perform there or party there.

One example was a while back. I woke up one morning with a slew of e-mails from the Casinos on slot tournaments and just about everything else. I knew that Jay Leno performed that weekend there and Ryan Cabrera was at some event at Dusk nightclub. I was perplexed as to why I did not get any of this stuff, so I e-mailed my contacts at the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority (ACCVA) to ask them why I never get this stuff from the Casinos. I told them that this is what my readers want to see and not these slot contests and could I get a story on Jay Leno being there and Ryan Cabrera at Dusk and we can run it big time. I get a e-mail back asking me who will write the story and I said the Public Relations people in the Casino. I get a quick reply that says I can not expect them to do that. Well isn't that their job? And that is what I told them, it is the job of the publicists at the Casinos to handle press requests and to write stories for the media. So this is the mentality of the ACCVA and most of the other people in Atlantic City. They promote things that no one is interested in anymore and the things that people are interested in, they rarely promote.

Another downfall of the Casinos is they rarely cater to the press outside Atlantic City anymore. They used too. They cater to local Atlantic City online publications that only the people in Atlantic City would read and no one else. On one recent conversation with a Atlantic City insider, I was told that they were going after the Philadelphia and surrounding markets and really not concentrating on New York. Not concentrating on New York? Now how crazy is this. The New York market is huge. We will take a trip to the Hamptons that takes 2 to 3 hours so why wouldn't we also go to Atlantic City which takes almost the same amount of time? New Yorkers would love a adventure in Atlantic City from time to time, but we are not being marketed to, so we go elsewhere. And New York City has the biggest pool of celebrities to bring down to Atlantic City.

Simple requests to publicists in Atlantic City become a chore. We get reason after reason why our requests can not be filled. One recent request I made at Resorts I gave up on.

The request was quite simple. The Atlantic City Cinefest was a few months ago. I had several friends who had films there and I contacted Resorts and asked for 2 rooms. One for me and another for my reality show film crew. A shortened version of their reply was this. "We have a couple of other events happening that weekend, so I don’t know if I can comp the rooms or provide you with rates. I will be in touch." They were never in touch, at least about this event, but my reply basically told them a few things. I told them that the year before when I covered the event, it got picked up everywhere, including the New York Daily News. To be fair, that happened under the old publicist, but a quick check by the new publicist could have resulted in seeing how much press they got from me, yet I get this e-mail that pretty much says if you read between the lines, they are not cooperating. Press from Times Square Gossip and our reality show mean nothing.

I mean, do they think that I need Resorts for a comped room? I get comped at almost every Casino anyway, because I play the slots. So not only do I spend money at these Casinos, I take photos, write stories and give them press. I figured since Cinefest was at Resorts, I would stay there. But it was not to be. So I thought, I could just stay elsewhere and take my celebrities anywhere to do photos and film my reality show. But then I decided, why bother. Atlantic City will never get it. Why fight with these people to give them press. It is just not worth it.

Village People Star Randy Jones With James Edstrom
And Boardwalk Empire's Chris Mulkey In Atlantic City

Another Charade was when I went to a 70's nightclub in a Casino with Randy Jones from the Village People and several other stars, including some from The HBO Hit "Boardwalk Empire." The club got us a round of drinks on them and all of a sudden the Village People's mega hit YMCA started playing. Randy jumped onstage and started singing the song and the crowd went wild. They could not believe that the legend himself Randy Jones was giving them a free concert. The club was out of control because we were all there. After Randy did his un-planned performance, we asked for drinks. They refused. Can you believe this? So I packed up my celebrities and we went elsewhere and believe it or not, the next day the Casino called and asked for copies of the photos I took of Randy onstage. And the nice guy I am, I gave them some shots. But we will never go back to the place again. What would a few free drinks have cost them? They just do not know how to cater to important people in Atlantic City, nor do they know how to cater to members of the press.


I offered a few years back, to the powers of Atlantic City to start Atlantic City Gossip. All they had to do was make sure every casino supplied me with photos and stories and I would link the site up on my vast network and they would have a ton of press. They loved the idea, but I could never get any of them to follow up with me. Here I was offering to do the work to give them publicity and all they had to do was bring me down there for a few days every few months and when I was not there, they were to send me all celebrity photos and stories from events. It was a gift from heaven, but it was just too much to ask them to do.


Las Vegas may be hurting a little from the bad economy, but they know their publicity. Almost every celebrity event there is, I get the story and photos right away from almost every publicist there. I get the whole package. If I need something else, they get it. They have a staff too and their job is just publicity. In Atlantic City, no staff and the publicist has 10 other jobs that have nothing to do with publicity. Atlantic City does have three very talented publicists. But since they are expected to do so many jobs and no assistants, it is almost impossible to do the publicity the way it should be done. It it also hard to believe that the powers to be there at the Casinos don't think New York is a market they should go after. The rare times members on the New York media are asked to cover something, they won't provide transportation and they expect you to make you way there, cover their event, write about it and all they give us is a one night stay, making the trip just work and no fun at all. How can anyone in the media even see what a fun town Atlantic City can be, if all they are doing is working. Las Vegas on the other hand will have the media at almost every event and cater to them. My talented photographers in Las Vegas are busy day and night covering celebrity parties.


The way to save Atlantic City is quite simple. They have many celebrity concerts and other events. One publicist told me once, that alot of the time the venues are rented out by promoters and they could not do any press on the event. Why not? Put it in your contracts with the promoter that whatever celebrity is performing there must do a quick photo op with the media, or allow a Casino photographer to shoot a few minutes of the show. This way the Casino gets publicity and the promoters event gets publicity and more important Atlantic City gets publicity. This is the way it is done in Las Vegas. People want to be where the celebrities are. The more star studded events you show in the media, the more people will want to go to Atlantic City to be where the action is. The media is the key to making Atlantic City a destination.


Have press junkets. Bring a bunch of media folk down every few months, not just for a night, but for a few days. The Casinos have so many empty rooms, it costs them nothing. Give them dinner at some of the places and show them what you got. Bringing us down for one night of work, only makes us feel used and feel like we never had a good time in the first place. If you have a event and you need us to cover, invite us and cater to us. We will do the right thing in return, and do a fabulous story. Excite us and we excite our readers.


Stop using the publicists to do everything but publicity. You hired a publicist, let them do publicity. Don't have them doing the marketing and 10 other things. Everytime I talk to one of my publicist friends in Atlantic City, they all have the same complaint. They are working on so many other things that have nothing to do with publicity, that they don't have the time to do the publicity for which they were hired. This is so stupid. Give the people you hired the tools to do the job right. And one publicist with no staff is crazy. Give them a small staff to do the job. Every story your publicist can get into the media, saves the Casino money and means more business. The more stories, the less you have to spend on paid advertising. Quite simple.


The hit HBO show Boardwalk Empire, which is all about Atlantic City, is filmed in Brooklyn. Why you ask? Because the State Of New Jersey refused to give tax breaks to HBO to film there. Does anyone in New Jersey Government realize that having a hit show filmed there creates excitement? People would flock to Atlantic City just to get a glimpse of the stars and to be where the stars film. People would stay in the hotels where the stars stay. This could have been such a huge asset to Atlantic City, but instead when you are watching the show, everything is filmed in the studios in Brooklyn and the boardwalk scenes are filmed on the Brooklyn boardwalk. Considering how Atlantic City needs business so bad, this has to one of the worst decisions ever in New Jersey. Whoever made it should be fired.


The only thing for the kids to do is to go to the beach or to go to the Steel Pier Amusements. When I mentioned this once to a member of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, he kinda argued with me. He said we have the Steel Pier Amusements and we have Lucy The Elephant. Well Lucy The Elephant may be historic, but it is not so close to the Boardwalk and a visit to Lucy in done within minutes. And The Steel Pier Amusements is one of the biggest rip-offs on the boardwalk. On my last visit, I was sitting on a beach next to the Steel Pier, and a little girl was arguing with her father. She wanted to go in and play. He kept telling her that it was a rip-off and she would be disappointed, but she cried and insisted and the father gave her money and she went in. Within minutes, she came out crying even more because the machines took her money real quick and gave her hardly any play. So there is nothing for kids to do in Atlantic City and if the Casinos would get together and invent fun things for the kids to do, then you would have families coming for a family trip. This is what they have done in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a family town at the same time it is a adult town. Las Vegas is family friendly and Atlantic City is not. Make Atlantic City family friendly and it will pay off with many new customers.


In 1976 a promise was made. That was that the Casino money would be used to help everyone and to fix the crumbling town. This was never done, but I do understand the Casino money has helped the school system with some of the best schools around. As you walk off the boardwalk and into the town, there are drug dealers, homeless people, empty stores and the ones that are rented are empty. So why would anyone expect the visitors to leave the safety of the boardwalk. They won't and this is what the Casinos want. They want every dollar spent in their properties and not in the community. The Casinos do not realize that if you make the community fun and safe, they get more visitors and everyone benefits. The Casinos and the community need to insist to the powers that be that the money earned for Atlantic City needs to benefit the community as a whole.


I am not a expert. I am seeing all this through my eyes as a member of the media for almost 30 years and as a frequent visitor to Atlantic City. I think I have a very clear view or at least close. If Atlantic City continues business as usual, the Casinos will continue to be in and out of bankruptcy and eventually they will lose their investors. The goal of The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority should be changed. Their new goal should be to work closely with every Casino on every event and to make sure everything has media coverage. If a star hits Atlantic City, the ACCVA should make sure the story and the photos hit every media outlet. The ACCVA should be the focal point for the Casinos to report too. The Casinos should make sure every event is supplied to the ACCVA with photos and a story. Money needs to be spent on the town. The restaurants and almost every other business off the boardwalk are dyeing. One travel writer from a big New York newspaper recently told me that he will no longer write about Atlantic City because they will not cater to him. He told me why bother to write about a town that has died. This is the perception in the media. Atlantic City is dead.


Governor Christie needs to step in for real this time. He promised after he was elected to step in and fix the problems. I have seen nothing done. The ACCVA needs to be re-vamped and the Casinos need to keep some of their publicists and get rid of others. The problem is when a publicist is let go in one Casino, another Casino will just hire the same dead weight. The ACCVA also hires a huge outside New York City firm to do public relations. Why isn't the ACCVA doing the job themselves. This is why they are there. This is why they are being paid. Why do they hire a outside firm that seems to do nothing?


There are now millions of websites. The newspaper business has died. The old time newspapers in New York are lucky if they even have 100 thousand readers a day now. If the powers that be in Atlantic City would embrace the Internet, they would have more bang for their buck. Sending a story on a celebrity visit or a celebrity show to one hundred websites that only have a thousand readers, would result in one hundred thousand readers on their event. If you send a story to Times Square Gossip, you get more than that in one shot as we are syndicated in so many places. Atlantic City needs to learn to use the Internet to lure visitors.


The best publicist is one that has a personal relationship with the media. If you have never met a reporter that you feed stories too, you are losing stories and you are losing a possible great friendship. I have one very talented publicist at a Casino that always goes the extra mile. She will give me tours of Atlantic City, showing me where she went to school, telling me stories about growing up in Atlantic City. She will take me to places outside the Casinos like the museum or a great restaurant. She has introduced me to her wonderful family and has become a good friend. If she sent me a story on the opening of a hot dog stand, I would do it. This is the art of being a great publicist. If you never met a reporter and all you do is send stories with your cooperate personality, you haven't created any loyalty or any friendship. You just have a stale business relationship. Once in a while invite a media friend down to just relax, without it being for some story. Call them up, tell them you want to see them and show them a good time. I guarantee they will do a story on their non-story trip anyway. You will see.


I did not mean to write this story today. It took a huge amount of my time. But I was set off when I got a e-mail from some Atlantic City publicist yesterday who sent me some boring Casino story. This same publicist has refused little requests from me in the past and now this week my box is full with her story requests. I e-mailed this publicist and told her to remove me from their media list as they never cooperate with me. She did send a nice e-mail back saying I would be removed and have a great holiday. A good publicist would ask me whats wrong and try to correct the problem. But since Times Square Gossips millions of readers mean nothing to this Casino publicist, I felt that I was not willing to promote them anymore. She can continue to send her little items to the small websites in Atlantic City, so it looks like she is doing her job. But the end result is I hear her Casino is having problems and since no-ones attitude will change at this Casino, I expect a bankruptcy to be announced soon.

I love Atlantic City and I love the people. It's a wonderful historic town. I am writing this story because I care what happens there. I am writing this in the hope that some important people in power there, will read this and step in and do something. Atlantic City already has fallen, but it can be saved and the way to do that is embrace the media. Plain and simple!