Tracking the Tropics
Sandy to close casinos, evacuate Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- A hurricane is shutting down Atlantic City's casinos for the second time in a little over a year.
With Hurricane Sandy taking aim at New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie ordered Atlantic City's 12 casinos to shut down by Sunday afternoon as part of his statewide emergency declaration.
It will mark the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling in Atlantic City that the casinos have been shuttered. Last year, the approach of Hurricane Irene shut the casinos down for three days in August.
Tony Rodio, president of the Tropicana Casino and Resort and head of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said safety takes precedence over business concerns.
"It's definitely going to hurt, but better safe than sorry," he said.
Hurricane Sandy on Saturday was barreling north from the Caribbean, where it was responsible for dozens of deaths.
Christie gave the Atlantic City casinos until 4 p.m. Sunday to clear out, but many accelerated that timetable on their own. The two Trump casinos in town were asking guests to check out by 11 a.m. Sunday and for everyone to be off the premises by 2 that afternoon.
That includes 25-year-old New York City resident Mike Labarbera, who was staying at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
"I think it's stupid," Labarbera, of Brooklyn, said of the shutdown. "I don't think it's going to be a hurricane; I think they're overreacting."
That is precisely the kind of thinking that worries Atlantic City officials. At a news conference at City Hall, Mayor Lorenzo Langford urged people to take the warnings seriously and get out while there was still time.
Tom Foley, Atlantic City's emergency management director, recalled the March 1962 storm when the ocean and the bay met in the center of the city.
"This is predicted to get that bad," he said.
Yet, based on past experience, Atlantic City officials realize not everyone will heed the call to leave. So despite the mandatory evacuation order, the city is offering to bus residents to mainland shelters of the island. It also is opening its public schools as shelters, capable of housing a total of 3,000 people.
Roads leading into Atlantic City will be closed at 4 p.m. Sunday, but outbound roads won't close until 10 p.m., or sooner if sustained winds reach 40 mph or more, Foley said. After that time, the city cannot guarantee it will be able to respond to 911 calls for help.
Another New York City resident, Bobby Colleran, 24, of Queens, also was staying at the Taj Mahal. He thinks the casinos should remain open as safe havens during the storm.
"I would think it's safe inside the buildings," he said. "People would be gambling and drinking and not trying to go outside."
The casinos took down most of their ubiquitous billboards lining the sides of the Atlantic City Expressway, knowing the ads for an Aerosmith concert, buffet deals, double cash back promotions and celebrity DJ appearances would be shredded to bits by the storm. Indeed, the winds picked up significantly in early afternoon, roiling the surf and whipping flags.
Many casinos removed summer beach bar gear from the sands and removed items from their roofs.
Last year, Irene, which was downgraded to tropical storm status just before it hit New Jersey, forced the 11 casinos that existed in Atlantic City at the time to close for three days, causing an estimated $45 million worth of lost business during what would have been one of the busiest weekends of the year.
Since gambling began in Atlantic City in 1978, the only other times the resorts closed were during Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and for a state government shutdown in 2006 that shuttered the casinos for three days, causing a loss of about $55 million.
Rodio said the impact of this year's shutdown might not be quite as bad as last year's, due to the fact that Irene hit during one of the busiest summer weekends of the year, compared to the beginning of a work week in late October. Of course, no one can say how long the storm's effects -- and this year's casino closures -- might last.