Smaller bets not in the cards for casino patrons

Atlantic City casinos blackjackYou would think a recession that has driven Atlantic City profits down 13.2% in the last year would motivate the casinos to lower their betting minimums to attract more people and generate good will.

You would be as wrong as a blackjack novice hitting on 16 with the dealer showing 5. I recently took my family and in-laws to the seaside gambling mecca and got priced out of playing. I didn't see one table game under $10 a bet. At that rate, a bad patch can put the most disciplined gambler in a hole.

This was a weekday, with entire sections of casinos roped off, gathering dust for lack of patronage. I stifled my outrage and used the time to knock around with my children and swim. I could have been one of the casinos' lambs happily primed for the slaughter if they would adjust their thinking.

With a great natural resource, the beach, and the country's thickest population base, Atlantic City makes the perfect test case for luring tourists in tough times. Sure, it offers hotel deals. We purchased two rooms for one night at Bally's for a total of $182 through Travelocity. But when it comes to the actual gambling, the casinos won't budge.

"It's their decison," Dan Heneghan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, told WalletPop. "They have the flexibility to set those minimums and maximums where they want as long as they are complying with our regulations."

Perhaps the house is under the illusion that the hand-over-fist collection of consumer gambling losses in the '90s and '00s would simply continue through record unemployment in 2010. That's not happening.

So I put the question to various casinos: With Atlantic City and the nation reeling from the recession, have you considered lowering your bet minimums to attract more customers and build public relations? The answers are not encouraging.

Liza Costandino, a spokeswoman for the Borgata: "Thank you for your interest, but we are going to pass on commenting at this time."

Mary Moyer of Trump Entertainment Resorts: "We do not have any plans to go to a $2 blackjack table. But the bottom line is we do have tables in the lower minimums, $10 and $15, and we place them on all three properties during the week and on the weekends."

Alice Parker of Harrah's, which owns four of the 11 Atlantic City gaming properties: "It's been a long time since table games were lower than $5 or $10." Parker suggested I check out other jurisdictions' minimums. Well, Las Vegas and New Orleans still have $5 tables, according to my casual survey.

I also wanted a local politician's take. State Sen. Jim Whelan, whose District 2 includes Atlantic City, did not return a message left by WalletPop.

Part of Atlantic City's stubborness arises from inflated paranoia over card-counters, who track blackjack decks to their betting advantage. But to this gambler left out in the cold, it boils down to a bigger problem. A concierge, not to be identified for obvious reasons, summed it up for me: "Greed."

Just when I was about to give up, I found a ray of hope. I read that Resorts was offering $2 blackjack as a retro-style promotion with one catch: the casino applies a 25 cent surcharge on every wager. I don't care if you're in Jersey, Monte Carlo or on a Mississippi riverboat: That's a sucker's bet.
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