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January 23, 2019

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Why did Miss America dump Las Vegas for Atlantic City?

2013 Miss America Pageant: The Winner

Steve Marcus

2013 Miss America Mallory Hytes Hagan, 23, of New York during a news conference after winning the 2013 Miss America Pageant in PH Live at Planet Hollywood on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013.

2013 Miss America Pageant: The Winner

Miss New York Mallory Hytes Hagan, 23, reacts after being crowned 2013 Miss America during the 2013 Miss America Pageant in PH Live at Planet Hollywood on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013.
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2013 Miss America Pageant: Winner Mallory Hytes Hagan of New York

Miss New York Mallory Hytes Hagan, 23, the winner of the 2013 Miss America Pageant at PH Live in Planet Hollywood on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Super Bowl XLVII: Miss America at Taste of the NFL

2013 Miss America Mallory Hytes Hagan attends Taste of the NFL at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Launch slideshow »

The fallout has been fast and furious after this morning’s official announcement in Atlantic City that the Miss America Pageant is headed back there for at least the next three years. Since 2006, the Miss America Pageant has been held at Planet Hollywood and funded by sponsorship from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and new Planet Hollywood owners Caesars Entertainment.

When the news was reported Wednesday afternoon, it took LVCVA and hotel officials by surprise. I can confirm that negotiations were continuing since the Jan. 12 pageant at Planet Hollywood -- “both sides are working together and want to keep it in Las Vegas for another three years,” one member of the team had told me.

However, I also learned that the Atlantic City sponsorship with taxpayer-funded support from the State of New Jersey was “an offer we simply couldn’t and wouldn’t match. It didn’t make economic sense at a certain point.”

But Miss America officials also were unhappy about what they perceived as a lack of welcoming promotion and that contestants were exposed to saucy posters of Strip shows and rolling billboards along The Strip of scantily clad sexy escorts.

“Instead of posters welcoming the contestants from around the country, they faced oversized billboards selling sex,” one Miss America official grumbled in January. “Not our image at all.”

So it came down to funding money and less Las Vegas sizzle in the decision to take the pageant “back home.” Ironically, though, Miss America had left Atlantic City as interest in the pageant dropped to the point that there was no TV broadcast, and, “We honestly thought it was nearing its end.”

When Miss America officials arrived here in 2006, they admitted that the pageant had “almost gone under and ended its 80-year run.” Las Vegas came to the rescue with financial support, hotel rooms and free meals for contestants, judges and organizers. Miss America returned to TV first as a reality TV show and then back on ABC as a multimillion-dollar, paid-for-time advertorial production.

“It’s a slap in the face to Las Vegas,” several hotel sources told me Wednesday night. “We helped them build back their brand. We gave them a whole new life and put them back on the map. They got all the excitement of Las Vegas with tremendous press and publicity. It got them back onto television, and then they turned around and surprised us with this decision.

“If they’d almost gone under staying in Atlantic City until 2005 before we rescued them with site fees and other generous support, why would they go back to the place where they nearly failed? Where’s the business sense in going backward? If they complained about sexy Las Vegas, how will they shoot around the aging, fading boardwalk of Atlantic City? How do they avoid the syringes in the streets, rundown abandoned houses, homes without windows and doors?

“Here, they had the skyline of the world, the hotels, the clubs, the restaurants for all their location shoots. Everybody welcomed them with open arms. What do they have to shoot for television in Atlantic City? It’s a gambling town, but in bad decline that has steadily seen its image and revenues deteriorate horribly the past few years.

“Atlantic City didn’t care for Miss America six years ago -- why now? Solely because Las Vegas put the pageant back on the map and made it relevant again.”

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno made the official announcement in Boardwalk Hall this morning on behalf of Gov. Chris Christie, who was returning from a California trip. The three-year deal between Miss America and LVCVA expired after the 2013 pageant last month. The Miss America Organization is headquartered in New Jersey.

In announcing the move to New Jersey this morning, the Miss America Organization confirmed that it has a new three-year deal also with ABC, but the first pageant won’t be until September 2014.

The lieutenant governor said, “New Jersey is proud to once again host the Miss America Pageant here in Atlantic City. We are confident that Atlantic City’s famous boardwalk and variety of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues will showcase the city’s vibrancy and attraction.”

Sam Haskell III, MAO chairman, said in a statement, “We are so very proud to bring Miss America back to her birthplace in Atlantic City. We are grateful to Gov. Christie and his staff for helping make this possible. The return to Atlantic City will allow us to showcase our Miss America events where it all began almost 93 years ago.”

MAO President and CEO Art McMaster said, “We are grateful to the governor of New Jersey and the lieutenant governor, who along with the agencies in Atlantic City, came together to create a mutually beneficial partnership to welcome back Miss America. This is a monumental milestone for our organization to return to the Jersey shores where Miss America began.

“As we depart Las Vegas, we sincerely thank our friends at Planet Hollywood, who have hosted us for the last eight years, and the City of Las Vegas, who helped us to achieve our best television ratings last January. We will now build on that success and begin a new era by returning the tradition to Atlantic City.”

Art continued, “It was always my dream that this would return here. Sadly, this organization went west for a while. That sadness is over. We are back to the city where the Miss America Pageant began, where the Miss America Pageant was raised and where the Miss America Pageant belongs.”

Atlantic County executive Dennis Levinson, who worked with the governor’s office to entice the pageant, said having Miss America anywhere but Atlantic City “just felt wrong.”

Initially, LVCVA officials didn’t know about the move, but spokeswoman Courtney Fitzgerald told The Associated Press later: “We wish the pageant well in its new home. Las Vegas is honored to have hosted for the past seven years.”

Miss America was started in the early 1920s and is the largest scholarship program for women in the U.S. In the early days of television, it was the show that broke all viewing records, but in the ’90s and into the new century, it struggled to stay relevant as national attitudes changed.

Calls and emails to Miss America officials Wednesday night and this morning for comment were unanswered. The rival Miss USA Pageant run by real-estate mogul Donald Trump is set for June at Planet Hollywood.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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