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In Atlantic City, casino after casino have shut down in recent years. They've left thousands of people out of work. Now there's some good news. Two of the big casinos have reopened under new owners. NPR's Jeff Brady reports many in Atlantic City hope this is the start of a turnaround.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Atlantic City is trying to remake itself from simply a gambling destination to a place where you can go and see a show, visit a spa, hang out at the beach and get a nice meal. The Trump Taj Mahal went out of business two years ago, but today it reopened with a bang - literally.
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BRADY: A few people seemed scared at first, but as the fireworks and smoke machine started, it was clear this was part of the dramatic grand opening show.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Let me hear you make some noise.
BRADY: It also featured acrobats, fire performers and the chairman of Hard Rock International promising a bright future.
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JIM ALLEN: We believe in Atlantic City. We believe in the state of New Jersey. And we truly believe that Atlantic City's best days are in front of it.
BRADY: Hard Rock says 50,000 people applied for nearly 4,000 open positions. Many of them will be represented by UNITE HERE Local 54, where President Bob McDevitt says the last decade has been tough on local workers.
BOB MCDEVITT: Back in 2006, we had about 15,000 members. Today we're down at around 10,000.
BRADY: Just up the boardwalk from the Hard Rock resort is the former Revel Casino, a 47-story-tall resort that closed just two years after it was built. Now it's called the Ocean Resort Casino. It offers sports betting in the wake of a Supreme Court decision last month that lifted effective bans in most states. But true to that remaking, you could just come here to watch big sporting events.
APRIL HOCH: We are going to have big screens all the way on the back wall. So there will be many games and many events - sporting events that...
BRADY: April Hoch was hired to show visitors around Ocean. She was among the thousands laid off in recent years. She's optimistic the new owners can stay in business with this strategy. Bruce Deifik is the owner and chairman and says Atlantic City already attracts a lot of people.
BRUCE DEIFIK: Atlantic City gets 24 1/2 million visitors a year. And people don't look at that. They don't think about that. That's a huge number. The question is, can we and the other properties in town move that number to 30 million people? I think the answer to that is yes.
BRADY: With this strategy of offering more than gambling. Still, out on the boardwalk, the publisher of Global Gaming Business Magazine worries the new resort casinos could end up just poaching business away from the existing casinos.
ROGER GROS: There's a couple of them that are kind of teetering on the brink right now, you know, if they lose a substantial amount of business. So, you know, the fact that we have two new casinos opening up - unfortunately, we may lose one or two more as the winter progresses.
BRADY: The key is attracting new people to Atlantic City, says Gros. Talk with tourists about that, and the conversation often turns to that other big gambling destination that followed a similar strategy.
MELISSA RAINWATER: Well, in Vegas, there's a lot more shows and, you know, you can do stuff every night. There's shows all over.
BRADY: Melissa Rainwater is here from Arkansas. The new resorts are promising more shows. Kariem Mahone from northern New Jersey hopes that along with the draw of the beach will help Atlantic City succeed.
KARIEM MAHONE: It's no Las Vegas yet. But, I mean, you know, in due time, who knows?
BRADY: Even before this new strategy the local casino business was improving. Numbers from a local university show revenue from gaming, entertainment and hotels were all up last year. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Atlantic City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.