A time few could imagine during the not-too-distant glory days of casino gambling has arrived in Atlantic City, where two casinos are to close and a third shut down in two weeks.
More than 5000 workers will lose their jobs in an unprecedented weekend in the seaside gambling resort, leaving many feeling betrayed by a system that once promised stable, well-paying jobs.
The Showboat is closing today, followed by Revel. Trump Plaza is the next to close, in two weeks. To the thousands who will be left behind, it still seems unreal.
"We never thought this would happen," said Chris Ireland, who has been a bartender at the Showboat since it opened. His wife works there, too, as a cocktail server.
What makes it even tougher to swallow is that the Showboat - one of four Atlantic City casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment - is still turning a profit.
But the company says it is closing Showboat to help reduce the total number of casinos in Atlantic City.
Caesars also teamed with Tropicana Entertainment to buy the Atlantic Club last December and close it in January.
"They just want to eliminate competition," Ireland said. "Everyone's in favour of a free market until it doesn't exactly work for them."
Yet many analysts and casino executives said the painful contraction now shrinking Atlantic City's casino market was exactly what the city needed to survive.
Since 2006, Atlantic City's casino revenue has fallen from US$5.2 billion to US$2.86 billion last year, and it will fall further this year. Atlantic City will end the year with eight casinos after beginning the year with 12.
New casinos popping up in an already saturated northeastern United States gambling market aren't expanding the overall pie but are slicing it into ever smaller pieces. Fewer casinos could mean better financial performance for the survivors.