Atlantic City: Over the Top and Back

While Atlantic City may not be as popular as Vegas for casinos, it’s commonly referred to as The World’s Playground, and for good reason. It’s home to some very popular casinos and hotels. But did you know that two famous men are responsible for its popularity today?

Atlantic City’s Origins

Atlantic City was first recognised as a potential tourist destination in the 1850s by Dr Jonathan Pitney. He believed the area, known as Absecon Island, was the perfect place for a “medical retreat”.


Railroad executives built tracks between Philadelphia and what would soon become Atlantic City. Construction finished in 1854 and over the next several decades, Atlantic City grew as hotels were established. A boardwalk was also built in order to stop sand from entering buildings.


While it was popular, it didn’t truly become a tourist hotspot until Enoch ‘Nucky’ Johnson took control of the city.

How Enoch Johnson Changed Atlantic City


Enoch ‘Nucky’ Johnson was born on January 20, 1883, to Smith E. Johnson. Enoch decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and became the sheriff of Atlantic County in 1908. Shortly after, he was offered the role of Atlantic City Republican Executive Committee Secretary.


Johnson’s money and influence made him one of the most powerful men in Atlantic City. So powerful, in fact, that under his rule, Atlantic City completely ignored prohibition, the federal ban on alcohol which came into effect in 1920. The city earned the nickname “The World’s Playground” because, during prohibition, Johnson openly promoted gambling, prostitution and alcohol.


However, Johnson was indicted for income tax evasion in 1939 and sentenced to ten years in prison. He only served four years before he was paroled and lived in peace until his death in 1968. Johnson’s downfall came at a price, however, as Atlantic City was left in shambles until gambling was made legal.


How Donald Trump Changed Atlantic City


Gambling was officially made legal in New Jersey in 1976 but was restricted to Atlantic City. Several hotels that were struggling financially launched their own casinos and dozens of casinos opened up throughout the late 70s and early 80s. As they became more popular, Donald Trump spotted a business opportunity.


Trump began purchasing properties along the boardwalk during the early 1980s. He obtained a gambling license and made several agreements with other companies to launch casinos. With Holiday Inns, he launched the Trump Plaza casino in 1984. However, the casino’s poor performance led to major disagreements.


Around the same time, Trump launched the Trump Castle casino with Hilton Hotels. Then, after a legal battle against television producer Merv Griffin, Trump completed construction on the Trump Taj Mahal and opened it in April 1990. Just eighteen months after it opened, however, the casino filed for bankruptcy.


All casinos were sold to his publicly traded company Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts and they all filed for bankruptcy shortly after, causing them to either be shut down or sold off. Despite this, Trump has been credited for sparking a newfound interest in Atlantic City.


During his reign, he brought big name boxers such as Mike Tyson to the city to attract more customers, and it worked. Casinos are still popular today and with the recent launch of sports betting in New Jersey, interest is expected to continue increasing.


If you want to learn more about Enoch Johnson, prohibition or about Donald Trump’s bankrupt casinos, visit our friends over at with the full story on Atlantic City.