Did the Atlantic City Hilton Bet Wrong on Bill Clinton?

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton doesn't seem to have the drawing power he once did.

The 41st Commander in Chief is set to talk at the Hilton Atlantic City Hotel & Casino on July 23, but plenty of seats are still available, according to Ticketmaster.com and other websites. The tickets range between $100 and $350, although someone was trying to unload good seats for $627 on the My City Rocks Ticket Exchange. I was able to find prime seats for Clinton's talk at the $350 asking price on Ticketmaster. In comparison, premium seats to Promises, Promises on Broadway cost $251.50 on a Saturday night (Clinton's show probably lacks singing and dancing).

The former president's appearance is part of a lecture series being put on by a struggling casino in a lousy market. Atlantic City is taking a beating from slots parlors in neighboring Pennsylvania. Revenue at Atlantic City's 11 casinos fell 9% in May to $319.7 million, with the Atlantic City Hilton posting a 21% decline. In the first four months of the year, revenue from slot machines was down 8.2%, and revenue from table games slid 7.3%. The resort town's fortunes will only worsen now that Pennsylvania's casinos are offering table games, so it's understandable why Atlantic City is willing to branch out to lure customers. But betting on Bill Clinton wouldn't seem particularly risky.

After all, many organizations are willing to pay Clinton's reported six-figure speaking fees. In 2008, he netted $6 million, mostly from giving talks to foreign companies, according to the Associated Press. That wasn't even a good year for him. In 2006, Clinton earned more than $9 million on the lecture circuit and nearly $40 million in the first six years after leaving office. Calls seeking comment from both the Clinton Foundation and the Atlantic City Hilton weren't returned.

Photo Ops for High Rollers?

He's hardly the first president to cash in on his time in the White House -- and he won't be the last. As the Washington Post notes, Ronald Reagan bagged a $2 million fee for a talk in Japan soon after he left the Oval Office in 1989. George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford all collected big lecture-circuit paydays, too.

But this seems different. For one thing, a former president giving a paid speech at a casino seems beneath the dignity of someone who used to be the leader of the free world. Will high-rollers get to shake his hand and snap a picture? What about autographs? Critics will scoff that outgoing Clinton probably will love the attention. The former president's affair with a White House intern disgusted the nation and lead to his impeachment, but he may be at the stage in life where he doesn't care what people think of him. If so, that's pretty disappointing to citizens who voted for him (in my case, twice).

I also don't know what people expect to get for the price of admission. Given Hillary Clinton's current role as Secretary of State, Bill probably has his speeches vetted so he can avoid making news. Any answers to questions will likely stick closely to the Obama administration's party line. What could he possibly have to say to the casino audience that he hasn't said already many times to the media for free?

A Rhetorical Roman Circus

The Comeback Kid could argue that there is nothing wrong with collecting a huge payday for opening his mouth. Besides, everyone remotely famous -- athletes, actors, TV personalities -- can make a tidy living on the lecture circuit, so why not him? Republicans are on the gravy train, too. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to appear at the same casino on Sept. 8, the AP says. Tickets for the Cheney talk don't seem to be available. A Cheney spokesman did not return an email.

Plenty of seats also remain for the rhetorical Roman circus of conservative pundit Anne Coulter and Democratic operative James Carville show scheduled for Aug. 21. But they're a bargain compared to the Clinton show at $55, $75 and $150. The Hilton's website also says the "Bold and Fresh Tour" featuring Fox News pundits Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck is slated for Aug. 5. No such date appears on the tour's site. A Hilton spokeswoman didn't return a call seeking comment. The duo say they regularly sell out.

Clinton always easily schmoozed with celebrities, so now he is touring like one. His next stop is Greensboro, N.C., on Nov. 30.