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Atlantic City losing 2 casinos and 5,000 jobs in 3 days

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey -- A time few could imagine during the not-too-distant glory days of casino gambling has arrived in Atlantic City, where two casinos will close this weekend and a third will shut down in two weeks.

More than 5,000 workers will lose their jobs in an unprecedented weekend in the seaside gambling resort, leaving many feeling betrayed by a system that once promised stable, well-paying jobs.

The Showboat is closing Sunday, followed by Revel on Monday and Tuesday. Trump Plaza is next, closing Sept. 16. To the thousands who will be left behind, it still seems unreal.

“We never thought this would happen,” said Chris Ireland, who has been a bartender at the Showboat since it opened. His wife works there, too, as a cocktail server. Before dinnertime Sunday, neither will have a job.

What makes it even tougher to swallow is that the Showboat — one of four Atlantic City casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment — is still turning a profit. But the company says it is closing Showboat to help reduce the total number of casinos in Atlantic City. Caesars also teamed with Tropicana Entertainment to buy the Atlantic Club last December and close it in January.

“They just want to eliminate competition,” Ireland said. “Everyone's in favor of a free market until it doesn't exactly work for them.”

Yet many analysts and casino executives say the painful contraction now shrinking Atlantic City's casino market is exactly what the city needs to survive. Since 2006, Atlantic City's casino revenue has fallen from US$5.2 billion to US$2.86 billion last year, and it will fall further this year. Atlantic City will end the year with eight casinos after beginning the year with 12.

New casinos popping up in an already saturated Northeastern U.S. gambling market aren't expanding the overall pie but are slicing it into ever-smaller pieces. Fewer casinos could mean better financial performance for the survivors.

Resorts Casino Hotel, which was on the verge of closing a few years ago, completed a remarkable turnaround in the second quarter of this year, swinging from a US$1.3-million loss last year to a US$1.9-million profit this year.

“I truly believe that eight remaining casinos can all do very well when the gambling market is right-sized,” said Resorts president Mark Giannantonio.

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The exterior of the Showboat Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey on June 27. The Showboat will close on Sunday, Aug. 31. (AP)

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