Is the complimentary cocktail glass half full or half empty?

That's the question raised by a national poll released this week that said Americans picked Atlantic City as their third choice among all casino destinations.

If you're a glass-half-empty kind of person, you might think it's bad news that Atlantic City, the nation's second-largest gaming market, was only the third choice in the Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll, taken in late March.

When asked which casino destination they'd most like to visit, 47 percent of those polled picked Las Vegas as their first choice. New Orleans was chosen first by 10 percent and Atlantic City by 8 percent.

But if you want to look on the bright side, there's good news to be had here. As in most polls, our interpretation of the numbers is often more important than the numbers themselves.

First, since the poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points, the difference between New Orleans and Atlantic City may be an illusion.

And polls aren't reality. They ask folks to think about where they dream of going, not where they're going. It's not surprising that more people might be dreaming about New Orleans than Atlantic City in March.

If you just look at residents of the northeast, Atlantic City finished a solid second to Las Vegas (22 percent to 39 percent.)

Also, Atlantic City did very well (23 percent) when people were asked to pick their second-choice destination. For some reason, people west of the Rocky Mountains are especially fond of Atlantic City as a second choice, picking it 30 percent of the time.

To FDU professor Donald Hoover, this is evidence that the city should cast a wider net when looking for new customers and should consider itself in a national competition for visitors.

Hoover also thinks it's good news that 24 percent of people who didn't pick Atlantic City as their first or second choice did not give a reason why. It means those people don't have a negative feeling about the city and there's an opportunity to build a positive image for the resort.

People who did opt for Atlantic City as a first or second choice said their positive image of the town has a lot to do with the city's most important asset: the beach.

If all this sounds familiar, it may be because a lot of people in Atlantic City have been talking about the same things to help revitalize the resort: Look for customers in a broader geographic area, emphasize the unique charms of our beach and Boardwalk and do whatever's necessary to build a positive national image.

That's the final bit of good news in the glass: Clearly the resort's boosters are on to something.

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