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Introducing Atlantic City

It's not exactly Vegas, but for many a trip to AC conjures Hangover-like scenes of debauchery. And while you might spot bachelors and bachelorettes, gray-haired retirees and vacationing families are at least as accurate as a cross section of typical visitors. Inside the casinos that never see the light of day, it's easy to forget there's a wide white-sand beach just outside and boarded-up shop windows a few blocks in the other direction. The 'AC', known throughout the late 19th and early 20th century for its grand boardwalk and Oceanside amusement pier and the glamorously corrupt one of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire set in 1920 Prohibition-era AC, has been thoroughly overturned. Since 1977 when the state approved gambling casinos in the hope of revitalizing this fading resort, it has been on a bumpy ride. An ever expanding number of mostly Native American–owned casinos throughout Pennsylvania and New York are challenging AC's gambling hegemony and raison d'être. A slew of nightclubs and hotel-casinos like the massive Borgata have brought glitz and glamour, the Pier at Caesars, a spiffy shopping mall jutting out into the Atlantic, a steady stream of overseas visitors and an express train service from NYC have kept AC from hemorrhaging too many visitors. If gambling isn't your thing, the boardwalk offers up an all-star roster of summer indulgence, from funnel cakes to go-karts to cheesy gift shops. The small Atlantic City Historical Museum provides a quirky look at AC's past.