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Molly Bilinski / Staff Writer  

Police evacuated the popular Cove beach Saturday morning due to a bomb threat, the mayor said.


cmatthews-pressofac / Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

Kyle Schuster,22, of Miford Bergen County on the Albany Avenue beach near Stockton University AC Campus. May 30, 2019 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)


Recreation
Quality of life in Atlantic City: What do residents need?

For Kyle Schuster, a 22-year-old studying marine biology at Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus, life is good at the college’s beachfront dorm.

But during the winter, he said, the resort seems to shut down with no tourists to serve. Sure, the casinos are still open, he said, but they don’t hold much appeal for a college student on a tight budget.

“It would definitely take more of the non-touristy lifestyle — like more akin to the people that actually live on the island,” he said of what he would need to stay in the city after graduation. “There’s not as much to do during the winter.”

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to improving a city, from crime rates and blight to access to health care and transportation. Day-to-day amenities, such as easy access to grocery stores, shopping and recreation, also make a city attractive to potential residents and businesses.

But defining quality of life is a fickle thing. It can mean something different depending on who’s asked; a college student making plans after graduation isn’t going to prioritize the same things as a retiree or a parent raising their children.

This month, The Press of Atlantic City is taking a look at what city leaders need to create or improve in the resort to attract new residents while keeping the current ones happy, involved and committed to their communities.

Jean Griffin, 81, said she doesn’t understand people who say there is nothing to do in the resort.

“There is more to do than I have time or money for,” said Griffin, who volunteers, takes jewelry-making classes, is part of a book club and more. “We go to the beach. My husband and I walk on the Boardwalk. We even spend $20 at the casinos, so there is always something to do in Atlantic City.”

Improving residents’ quality of life is one of the key recommendations of the state’s transition report on Atlantic City, co-authored by Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy.

Many residents have only limited access to high-quality food, no access to a movie theater other than inside a casino and limited after school and summer programs for children, according to the report. Johnson called addressing these issues “pivotal to rebuilding community life, and some are essential to the health and safety of residents.”

Some parents aren’t waiting around for the state to improve their children’s access to programming, but are focusing on what’s already available.

Indra Owens, 37, a guidance counselor at Atlantic City High School, said she wished the public schools offered more structured sports for children younger than high school age, and she is praying for the school’s music and theater arts programs as they develop districtwide.

Owens said parents need to do more to help their children take advantage of what is offered.

“Overall, I want the parents to understand we cannot continue to blame local government or politics,” said Owens, who has an 8-year-old daughter, Journey. “Before we start to say what isn’t offered, we have to take more advantage of what is offered.”

Staff Writer Vincent Jackson contributed to this report.

Johnson Report

Cape_may
Family meetings behind success of Cape's Craig family

CAPE MAY — Toby Craig and his three children gathered around a patio table at their Cape May Winery on a recent summer morning for one of their famous family meetings.

For the Craig family, owners of the Washington Inn and Lucky Bones restaurants, Cape May Winery, and the Love the Cook and Cape May Roasters stores in town, the meetings have paid off.

Every decision they’ve made through the years has been done as a family. Every possible venture has been analyzed and discussed, starting in 1976 when Toby and Rona decided to leave their teaching jobs in Delaware and move to Cape May.

The topics of discussion can vary wildly. On this day, sons Michael and David and daughter Betsy Sole told stories about their humble beginnings in the local restaurant scene, interspersed with the good-natured digs that often occur between siblings.

Off to the side, Toby smiled through his sadness. June 26 marked two years since Rona, his wife of 56 years, passed away.

“A lot of the reasons our family is so close is because of their mother,” Toby said. “She was the person who kept everything going, who organized our family meetings. She kept us all together.”

Besides their skill at business, the family is known even more for their willingness to help the community, whether it’s through charitable donations or providing their restaurants for civic gatherings.

“Everyone knows they’re very charitable and they’ve helped so many people,” Cape May Mayor Chuck Lear said. “And they are so down to earth. You can see Toby, his two boys or Betsy and it’s just continuing the conversation you had the last time you saw them. They are just a great family. I love every one of them.”

Toby spent his boyhood summers at his grandmother’s home in Cape May Point and was a member of the Cape May Beach Patrol in 1958-59. He dreamed of raising his family by the beach.

They moved into a house on North Street in Cape May. Rona returned to teaching, and Toby became a businessman while the kids took on summer jobs.

Their reputation as hands-on owners of the businesses is evident by the callouses on their hands and dirt on their fingernails.

“We developed our work ethic as children,” Betsy said. “My first job was cleaning the steps of the Hotel Alcott next door by hand. I was around 8 or 9. I think I was paid 25 cents a day.”

Another family meeting led to them buying the Washington Inn in 1979.

At the time, the downstairs was a tea room. The Craigs moved upstairs, which featured all of three rooms and a bathroom.

“We went from a 15-room house about a block from the beach to a three-room space in the middle of town,” Toby said. “In the winters, we’d take the furniture off the porch and put it in front of the fireplace.”

At the time, Cape May’s top restaurants were considered to be the Lobster House, the Merion Inn and the Top of the Marq at the Marquis de Lafayette Hotel. In 1981, the Washington Inn joined the list after the Craigs acquired a liquor license and turned it into a restaurant that is now considered one of the best fine-dining establishments on the East Coast and a go-to place for wedding rehearsal dinners, anniversaries and other special occasions.

“Our dad is a genius,” said Michael, who now owns the Washington Inn. “He has that ability to visualize and create something special.”

Michael, David and Betsy all worked at the restaurant as teenagers while becoming outstanding student-athletes at Lower Cape May Regional High School.

Michael (Class of 1981) and David (1983) were both members of the Lower Cape May football team that went undefeated during the regular season in the fall of 1980 and reached the South Jersey Group III playoffs. David was also a standout wrestler, winning a District 32 title. Betsy (1985), a member of Lower Cape May’s Athletic Hall of Fame, went on to play field hockey at Michigan State University.

The Craigs had another great restaurant when it opened the Pelican Club at the old Top of the Marq but were forced to close at the end of summer 2005 when the hotel owners decided to convert the space into condos.

Another family meeting led to opening Lucky Bones, site of the old Anchorage Inn and briefly 1919 Restaurant, in 2006.

“There are a lot of good restaurants in town, but there wasn’t any place where you could get a brick-oven pizza and a glass of wine or a beer,” said David, who owns Lucky Bones. “Betsy always thought it would be a big hit. She thought it was a concept that Cape May needed.”

While the Pelican Club was open, Toby Craig ran into Bill Hayes, a former member of the Coast Guard who owned and operated a small winery on Town Bank Road in Lower Township.

Toby had offered to buy the winery a few years earlier. In 2003, Hayes sold it to him.

Betsy co-owns the winery with her father while also overseeing the Gene Sole Scholarship Fund in memory of her late husband, a decorated Marine Corps veteran and former junior high school principal and coach who lost his fight against cancer in 2011.

Most recently, David has developed a food truck called Rolling Bones.

“Not everything we’ve tried has worked out,” David said. “But our parents taught us to never be afraid to fail. If something doesn’t work, you just cut bait and move on.”

After a family meeting, of course.


Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

Golden Nugget Atlantic City could become the first casino in the United States whose revenue from internet gaming matches or exceeds earnings from table games and slots.


Casinos_tourism
Golden Nugget poised to make internet gaming history

ATLANTIC CITY — Something never before seen in the U.S. gaming industry may happen in the Marina District before year’s end.

Golden Nugget Atlantic City could become the first land-based casino in the country whose internet gaming revenue matches or exceeds earnings from tables and slots.

Steve Ruddock, lead online gambling analyst for PlayNJ.com, said it is not surprising that Golden Nugget is “flirting with this milestone” and sees it as inevitable that online gaming revenue will eventually eclipse casino win.

Golden Nugget casino internet gaming win 2018-19

“It would surprise me if it happened during the busier summer months, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see online revenue surpass retail revenue as soon as October,” Ruddock said.

In four of the five months of reported revenue this year, the difference between earnings generated from Golden Nugget’s online gaming portfolio and the brick-and-mortar property has been less than $3.5 million. With the exception of Resorts Casino Hotel, whose online gaming revenue has jumped significantly since the introduction of legal sports betting, no other Atlantic City gambling parlor is even on pace to having the two revenue streams that close.

In March, Golden Nugget and its online gaming partners — betfaircasino.com, playsugarhouse.com and nj.betamerica.com — set a record for internet gaming in New Jersey with $14.23 million in reported revenue, which was $3.4 million less than what the casino brought in from tables and slots. The next month, which was the second-largest ever internet gaming total ($13.85 million), the difference between online and casino revenue was less than $1.6 million.

Thomas Winter, senior vice president and general manager of online gaming for Golden Nugget, said that by focusing solely on the New Jersey market over the past five years, the casino and its online partners have an advantage over competitors whose attention is sometimes spread across multiple jurisdictions.

“As a trend, the growth is mostly online,” Winter said. “The good news is that it’s not really cannibalizing land-based revenue.”

Golden Nugget’s year-over-year casino win (table games and slots revenue) in May, according to the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, decreased by a little more than $2.58 million while internet gaming revenue increased by nearly $5.5 million. Golden Nugget was second among Atlantic City’s nine casinos in total gaming revenue — a combination of casino win, internet and sports betting — in May.

“If you look at Atlantic City, there isn’t a clear indication that this online gambling revenue is coming at the expense of retail revenue,” said Chris Grove, a managing director at industry research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. “If anything, it seems to be almost wholly additive to retail revenue.”

June’s revenue figures are not due out until Friday, but Winter said online gaming revenue for Golden Nugget and its partners was about $13.6 million, a 62% increase compared to the same month last year.

Winter said the “simple” reason internet gaming’s growth is not coming at the expense of brick-and-mortar casino win is that the demographics of the players are different. Generally speaking, Winter said online players are younger than land-based gamblers and seeking a different experience.

The addition of sports betting in New Jersey, where more than 80% of all wagers were placed through a mobile application or online in May, has also boosted growth in the online market, Winter said.

“(Sports bettors) were not seeing themselves as casino players,” he said, “(but) most of the (online gaming) growth is coming from sports betting players who sign up to bet on sports and then will start playing a bit of roulette, blackjack or slots.”

Overall, Golden Nugget’s rise to the top of the New Jersey online gaming market has been aided by several factors, Grove said. The casino has placed an emphasis on internet gaming, continues to invest resources in the product and has not been averse to risk-taking, such as being the first operator to offer live-dealer games online.

“To put it more simply, they are bringing a better product that is executed more robustly than the majority of their competitors in the market,” Grove said. “So that idea of operational excellence is one of the primary reasons why Golden Nugget is in the position that it’s in, in terms of generating as much revenue as it does from online gambling.”

Golden Nugget also reaps the rewards from its multiple high-performing “skins,” or partners that use its license to conduct legal online gaming in New Jersey.

Richard Schwartz, president of Rush Street Interactive, which operates playsugarhouse.com, said the partnership with Golden Nugget has been mutually beneficial. Schwartz said his online casino offering accounts for roughly 9% of the total internet gaming market in Atlantic City.

“(Online gaming) is a proven industry globally, and I think it’s taken some time for many U.S. companies to get comfortable with this new industry,” he said. “But I think there’s a recognition that it offers value to players and a chance to engage in hobbies and activities that they really enjoy.”

Winter estimates online gaming revenue will account for $440 million in the Atlantic City market this year, which would be an additional $150 million to the industry’s total.

“We believed the market was always there, but you had to offer a better product and user experience and educate people about online gaming,” Winter said. “I believe this (growth) will continue.”