Atlantic City gambles on Sandy

2012-10-29 22:30

Atlantic City - Atlantic City in New Jersey was built on taking gambles but the casino haven faces the ultimate high roller in Hurricane Sandy, which could make landfall here later Monday.

Wind and driving rain shook the town that inspired the hit gangster series "Boardwalk Empire." Things will get worse when Sandy, currently approaching from the Atlantic, hits the Jersey shore, possibly even scoring a bull's eye.

Almost the entire population of 40 000 has been evacuated and police have closed access roads to all except emergency vehicles and journalists.

Highways leading to Atlantic City and streets of the town itself were partially flooded early Monday and, barring a couple of TV teams and police patrols, devoid of people.

The abandoned resort resembled the set of a post-apocalyptic movie, with traffic lights changing at crossroads without cars, car parks lit up but empty, and shallow rivers of flood water pouring down deserted streets.

Huge grey waves attacked the beachfront and along the boardwalk the casinos, bars and gaudy hotels that cater to more than 30 million visitors a year were boarded up, their entrances sandbagged.

Inside, ranks of slot machines twinkled away, but with no one to pay. Loudspeakers playing improbably cheerful music and recorded enticements to punters continued to blare out over the desolate sidewalks.

"Are you looking to unwind?" asked one commercial aired outside Caesar's casino, where a fake Roman statue watched over the forlorn lobby.

"Why settle for just another happy hour when you can have an even happier hour?" urged another message over the loudspeakers. "Reward yourself."

Other than police cruising about in SUVs, a soaked TV crew doing a live report from the beach was virtually the only sign of life in the town. Even the birds had vanished.

The shuttered casinos, however, did have security guards keeping an eye out for looters.

At Caesar's John Conway, 70, peered out from behind the faded gold front doors. They'd been chained together but continued to flap ominously in the wind.

Conway, wearing a white shirt marked "security," looked at the situation from a gambler's perspective.

"If you're going to get hurt, you're going to get hurt. If you just take it easy, then maybe you stay out of it. The odds are good, because I'm not playing," he said.

"Worst case scenario would be some kind of building collapse and evacuation. I don't think that's likely. Best case scenario is that she turns around heads out to the Atlantic and we don't see her. Some boat gets knocked around instead," he said.

Then Conway returned to trying to close the doors flapping in the rising wind.