Gold rush on at Atlantic City Hilton - Tuesday 29th of April 2008

For years, Atlantic Citys pawn shops - euphemistically known as "cash for gold" stores - have served as magnets for tapped-out gamblers looking to hock their jewelry for one last shot at a casino jackpot.

Now one gaming hall will allow its customers to trade in their rings, watches and other gold items without having to go to the pawnbrokers crowding Pacific Avenue, just steps from the Boardwalk casinos.

The Atlantic City Hilton Ca-sino Resort is beckoning people to "sell your gold for cash" in an event that is open to the public but de-signed to get more gamblers in the door. Get Cash Gold Inc., a company based in Ow-ings Mills, Md., will be on hand April 25-27 in the Hilton ballroom to buy the gold.

"I dont liken this to a pawn shop, but a convenience," said Phil Juliano, the Hiltons senior vice president of marketing.

Juliano acknowledged that the event will give the Hilton a boost, too. Once customers sell their old gold, they will have extra money in their pockets to play the slot machines and gaming tables.

"We think our customers will enjoy having more ammunition to play with in the casino," Juliano said.

One casino analyst cautioned the Hilton not to appeal to Atlantic Citys seedier past at a time when the resort is trying to remake its image into a more upscale, Las Vegas-style tourist destination.

"In one sense, you have to give the Hilton credit for thinking outside the box, but you have to be careful that it doesnt speak to the unseemly side of Atlantic City," said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group. "On a limited basis, this may not be a big thing, but certainly if a casino were to get into the cash for gold business, that would raise a lot of eyebrows in town."

In a 1999 report vigorously disputed by gaming supporters, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission used the pawn shops to illustrate the negative impacts allegedly caused by casinos on Atlantic Citys businesses.

"Few businesses can be found more than a few blocks from the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Many of the local businesses remaining are pawn shops, cash for gold stores and discount outlets," the report concluded.

Richard Leone, a former New Jersey state treasurer who served on the National Gambling Impact Study Commission from 1997-99, mentioned the proliferation of Atlantic Citys pawn shops in a 2001 New York Times column that criticized a proposal for three American-Indian casinos in western New York.

"Oh, most of the casinos do well and states get more taxes, but what about the promise of delivering real economic opportunities? Try walking around Atlantic City; one block from the Boardwalk, it almost seems the major retail is pawn shops," Leone wrote.

Dismissing any pawn shop comparisons, Hilton officials say the casino is accommodating its customers by allowing them to trade in their gold while the precious metal is selling at near-record prices. Gold soared above $1,000 per ounce for the first time in March before settling back in the $900s this month.

"Its a hot trend right now because prices are high," Hilton spokesman Brian Cahill said. "Customers are selling their gold for cash."

Besides the convenience factor for customers, Juliano maintained that the Hilton simply is being opportunistic in attracting new gamblers. It is promoting the event by offering new members who sign up for Hiltons player loyalty card their choice of free slot play or cash back.

A Hilton billboard overlooking the Atlantic City Expressway serves as a gigantic advertisement for the event. "Sell your gold for cash!" it blares. "New members boost your profits."

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