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Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Including Buses)

Some exciting news from Atlantic City. The new Atlantic City Express Service, known otherwise as ACES, starts this Friday. For those not from the NE (or, um, NYC, specifically), ACES is a new train line running express from New York City to Atlantic City. I've got a slew of opinions about the service, but before we look into it further, let's talk generally about the state of casino poker for New Yorkers.

If there was one word that epitomizes the NYC poker player's casino adventures it would be this: travel. The nearest legal live poker room is a minimum two hours away, assuming you live across the river from the city in New Jersey. More realistically, for anyone leaving from the suburbs to the North of the City or (god forbid) the East of the City (which requires a drive through or around Manhattan), the trip is going to be a good 2.5 to 3 hours. Add in rush hour City traffic on any weekday, New Jersey shore traffic during the summer, and any other excuse for traffic this city has seen, and you have a recipe for a long wait.

So what are the options for a New Yorker who feels the need for casino poker? Planes, trains and automobiles, with buses included for good measure.

On my most recent trip, bro-in-law Marc and I chatted about the easiest way to AC. He had the definitive answer, although I can only discuss it from the third-person: plane. Several years ago, Marc and wifey Kim's new step-mother would make semi-regular trips to AC. I don't know a lot of the details, but I do know that she had some sorta high roller status, the best perk of which was the free flight to AC. Marc went one time, flying out of a small airport in Long Island (suburbs east of NYC) and into a small AC airport. Small airports are the key, since it avoids the usual traps of air travel: busy airports, delayed flights, obnoxious (but necessary) security protocols, the need to arrive 90 minutes early. From there, they were picked up by a limo and brought straight to the casino. Absolutely ideal...if you didn't have to play through what must be hundreds of thousands of dollars (as a conservative estimate).

If you can't get a plane, though, there are several other options. The one I've used most frequently is simply driving. I don't have a car (the joys of City-living), so usually that means that I must rely on one of my ne'er-do-well friends. Even though I'm living in the lap of luxury, usually picked up from Manhattan, the ride is a pain in the ass. Once you factor in a NYC stop, you have to deal with the traffic around all exits from this great island we call Manhattan. That can easily add another hour or more to your trip. Then you have gas and tolls, and a round trip costs easily $50-60, on the conservative side. Of course, that's split among passengers, so it is fairly economical. Plus, you have the freedom of a car, which is a bonus. Naturally, if you don't own a car, though, the cost will be several hundreds of dollars in rental costs, making it non-economical for NYers without driving friends.

Before the ACES line, if you wanted to travel to AC by train, you had to probably purchase through Amtrak (which, frankly, should have been bankrupt YEARS AGO if not for huge government subsidies, basically pork barrel spending from states whose residents actually rely on Amtrak for travel...shiver...). Right now, the price would be between $55 and $120 each way and takes about 3 hours. If you can do any math, you can see that this is a bum deal. It takes longer AND costs more than driving. Which leads us to...

Buses. I was very anti-bus at first, but since my last two trips via bus, I'm a complete convert. The bus is dirt cheap at $35 roundtrip, with a $20 cash voucher (just cash it in, no play through) upon arrival at the casinos. The trip has taken an easy 2 hours 20 minutes or less each of the four rides I've taken, regardless of weather or traffic. This is largely due to the fact that the busses have special lanes to escape the City, which is where the biggest traffic congestion occurs. For $15, roundtrip, you can get to AC faster and cheaper than any other form of travel. If you look scary enough, you can also ensure your own seat most of the time.

And finally, we come across ACES. When ACES was first announced, I thought it was a great idea. Express train service from NYC to AC is a no brainer, and I was shocked they didn't have it before. Then I heard rumors that the price would be prohibitive. Well, it's not quite as bad as I first thought. Each way on ACES costs about $50, cheaper than a regular Amtrak ticket, and definitely cheaper than renting a car or losing enough to earn a comped flight. However (and this part kills me) the trip takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes by train, at which point you have to get a shuttle (free) to individual casinos.

Why can't they just get it right? I know it's not easy or cheap. In fact, some of the casinos actually got together to fund the ACES line, merely to bring in more customers. And I suppose it does its job of offering a means of travel from NYC to AC for those without cars who refuse to ride a bus. But why is it $100 round trip and takes LONGER than a bus?! This is a problem that does not just permeate the ACES line but rather many train lines around the US. The Japanese have had the Shinkansen (read: bullet train) since 1964, traveling at about 130 mph. Test runs have even gotten up to 275 mph. Yet here, in the US of A, we are traveling around on slow ass trains, moving at a speed equivalent to an automobile. What the hell, America?! Hell, even South Korea has a bullet train. If I am going to pay $100 round trip, I expect to get there FASTER than a car.

In the end, ACES is a waste for a player like me willing to take a cheaper and faster bus. I hope ACES succeeds, merely because I like to see AC succeed and I like the idea of more players. However, time will tell. With so many other options around, the ACES line targets particular customers: players who are too elite for bus service but are too broke for car service. With the economy in its present shape, maybe that will be a lot of people. My guess, though, is that it won't.

I'm crossing my fingers for ACES and AC, but frankly, I think this one was off the mark.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 9:46 AM,


At 12:54 PM, Blogger Wolfshead said...

Don't think it's the trains so much as it is all the small jurisdictions they travel thru. Every time you turn around some small town along the right of way wants the trains to slow down as they pass thru


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