People spend a lot of time looking for problems to avoid or to warn others about. That’s human nature, because it often is beneficial. But it also results in overlooking opportunities, which can be as harmful as any problem.
Some now worry that the new casino hotels coming to Atlantic City — the one Hard Rock International will open next year and another eventually from a buyer of the former Revel — will be more casino hotels than visitors want, triggering another round of closings.
Among these worrywarts are bond-rating analysts, the professional handwringers of the investment community. They look for tiny differences in the likelihood that the debt of businesses and governments will be repaid, and if more city casinos divide up the same number of customers, that could result in one.
That could happen, but there are good reasons to think it won’t, some in areas of economics beyond bean-counting and others in Atlantic City itself.
Much of the pessimism rests on a mistaken belief that the size of the gambling market in the East and in Atlantic City itself is fixed. This is much like the well-known lump of labor fallacy, the notion that there are a fixed number of jobs in a market or economy and everyone is fated to compete for them.
The truth is that markets and economies often grow, creating more products and services, more customers and more jobs. Twenty years ago, firms like Nokia and Motorola dominated a market for about 100 million mobile phones. Phones got better, and now that annual market is 1.5 billion.
Another mistake is to focus on gambling alone. Betting is just part — a diminishing share — of the fun possible in a casino hotel, let alone a whole seaside resort city.
Sure, a small number of people who used to drive down to Atlantic City from Springfield, Massachusetts, will probably go to the MGM casino there when it opens next year.
And some people who mainly gambled at the simple convenience casinos in Pennsylvania will probably make do with betting at truck stops and airports, which was just approved by the revenue-desperate state. For that matter, people who are only interesting in gambling don’t even need to leave home, with betting already legal online in New Jersey and soon in Pennsylvania and many other states.
That’s not most Americans. They want many kinds of enjoyment — numerous choices and price ranges for good-to-great places to eat, satisfying-to-fabulous entertainment, and family fun, from diversions to lifetime memories.
That choice and range come with another economic practice: clustering. There are reasons most of the area’s car dealers and furniture sellers are in a line from Atlantic City to Mays Landing. Customers know that in one convenient drive they’ll find just what they’re looking for at the price they need or want.
Atlantic City has seven casino hotels, soon to be eight or nine, and each offers so much more than their convenience-gambling competitors. Visitors who hit boredom after one visit to a solo gaming box can spend years exploring their options in Atlantic City.
And now the city is becoming more welcoming to them by redeveloping neglected areas, enabling business investment and cleaning up the street scene.
Frankly, we think it is far more likely that people in five years will be surprised at how much potential Atlantic City had and realized than disappointed in its repetition of past mistakes.
Let the tough times be a memory that motivates the rewarding work of making a brighter future, not a discouraging fear.