A new nationwide poll shows that many still mistakenly believe the Atlantic City Boardwalk was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, suggesting it will take much work to change perceptions and revitalize the tourism industry in the storm’s aftermath.

Although the latest survey results from Jan. 4-7 reflect significant improvement over a similar poll taken in November, one top official bluntly said the new numbers still “suck.”

The Atlantic City Alliance, a marketing coalition funded by casinos, has been fighting public perceptions and erroneous national news reports that the iconic Boardwalk was swept away and much of the town was heavily damaged by Sandy.

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In the latest poll conducted for the ACA by the New Jersey-based Russell Research, 25 percent of the people nationwide believe the Boardwalk was destroyed. Moreover, the poll found that 32 percent of the people in the Northeast thought the same thing.

In November, a similar poll found that 41 percent of people nationwide and 52 percent in the Northeast believed then that the Boardwalk had been ruined. The Northeast remains Atlantic City’s key feeder market for casino customers and the rest of the tourism economy.

Liza Cartmell, ACA president, said January’s poll suggests the city is making strides in changing public perceptions of the hurricane damage. At the same time, she acknowledged that a large segment of the population still thinks the city was hit hard, even though it was largely unscathed.

“Those numbers still suck,” Cartmell said. “You’ve got a quarter of the nation and a third of the Northeast that think we still have issues.”

The alliance has launched a $6 million publicity campaign, including new tourism ads, to counter misperceptions that the hurricane ravaged Atlantic City. On Wednesday, it will hold a media roundtable in Philadelphia to discuss the latest poll results and its efforts to revive tourism.

January’s poll was conducted online among 1,250 adults across the country. Included was an additional sample of 200 people in the Northeast to reflect the area closest to Atlantic City and the tourists who are most likely to visit the resort town. The November poll surveyed 1,320 people online.

Three percent of those polled in January, compared to 9 percent in November, believe people are still not allowed to visit Atlantic City.

The latest results show that people don’t seem to view Atlantic City as negatively as they did in November. In November’s poll, 45 percent of the people nationwide gave negative responses to a series of hurricane-related questions about the city, but that figure dropped to 28 percent in January. On the flip side, the number of positive comments about the city dropped nationwide from 39 percent in November to 37 percent in January.

Of the poll respondents from the Northeast, 35 percent made negative comments about Atlantic City in January, compared to 58 percent in November. The number of positive comments from the Northeast increased to 56 percent in January, compared to 51 percent in November.

In addition to questions about the Boardwalk, the poll asked a series of questions about Atlantic City’s casinos, including whether people thought they were closed.

In what the Atlantic City Alliance viewed as positive comments, just 5 percent of those polled in January thought the casinos were closed, compared to 15 percent in November. January’s poll found that 11 percent of the people believed the casinos “are open but pretty empty,” compared to 17 percent in November.

Gambling revenue at the 12 casinos has tumbled in Sandy’s aftermath. It fell 20 percent in October and plunged a record 28 percent in November, but appeared to stabilize somewhat in December, down 9 percent.

Atlantic City gambling revenue fell 8 percent, to $3 billion, for all of 2012, the sixth straight year of declines in a market still hurting from the sluggish economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states. The hurricane was the latest blow to business.

Most of Atlantic City escaped the brunt of the Oct. 29 hurricane, although the casinos were closed for a week while Gov. Chris Christie maintained an evacuation order to assist in recovery efforts. Many homes were flooded, but the main tourist attractions — the casinos, the Boardwalk and the shopping areas — had little damage.

Some national TV news outlets mistakenly reported that the entire Boardwalk was destroyed. They showed footage of a small section of the Boardwalk, in an area far away from the central tourist district, that had been damaged by previous storms and was already condemned.

Jeff Guaracino, the ACA’s chief strategy and communications officer, said some media also confused the famed Steel Pier in Atlantic City with a heavily damaged amusement site farther up the coast in hurricane-battered Seaside Heights. Steel Pier was unharmed.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:


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