Amid confetti, high school bands, balloons, clowns, television crews, political oratory, some citizens' pointed indifference and even a little protest, this tattered resort town officially received the go-ahead yesterday to develop casino gambling.
As New Jersey Gov. Brendan T. Byrne signed the law allowing the casinos to get underway early next year, the estimated 6,500 people who packed the city's famous boardwalk to watch the ceremony burst into cheers.
But earlier yesterday a group of about 70 Puerto Rican activists, staged a march further down the boardwalk to protest what they claim has been the forced eviction of poor people to make room for the casinos.
Those who took the day's pageantry in stride included Sal Sidone. "There is good and bad about it," he said as he combed the beach in front of the boardwalk with a metal detector in hopes of finding buried change left by tourists last summer.
"It's bad for the people who lose and good for the people who get the money," said the grizzled beach-comber who admitted his pickings for the day had been pretty slim.
New Jersey voters approved casino gambling in Atlantic City in a November referendum.
But it took the state legislature until last week to approve regulations under which the casinos will operate and, with Byrne signing the bill, the only delay before casinos open is the licensing and building process.
Both state officials and prospective casino owners hope the first gambling palaces will be in operation early next year. First, however, each potential holder of casino license will have to undergo an investigation by state law enforcement officials that is being referred to as "in-depth."
As the law is written, only modern hotels with 500 or more rooms which have passed inspection will be allowed to open casinos.
Officials in the office of state attorney general William Hyland say, the law will give them enough power to make sure the underworld is kept out.
But during yesterday's ceremonies the question of organized crime was raised only once, and the emphasis was on the economic benefits casinos will bring to what nearly everyone concedes is a resort which has been on the edge of a terminal disease.
"Organized crime is not welcome in Atlantic City," Byrne said, "and I warn them again to keep your filthy hands out of Atlantic City and keep them the hell out of our state."
But others had different messages. "We are here to celebrate the birth of a new Atlantic City," said Martin Wisznat, pastor of a local church who delivered the opening prayer at the ceremonies.
Under the law, casinos will be taxed 8 per cent of their gross revenues by the state with the money going into a fund to reduce property taxes and untility bills for senior citizens.
But gazing almost wistfully from the beach where he methodically waved his metal detector to and fro, Sidone reckoned those breaks for the senior citizens are about the only way he stands to gain from the casinos.
"I guess it'll be good for the city, but I don't think I will do any gambling. It's too hard to get a buck these days," he said.