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October 19, 2017

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It was ‘a clear choice’ for Miss America Pageant to leave Las Vegas and return home to Atlantic City


Tom Donoghue/

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

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 »

2013 Miss America Pageant: The Big Night

The 2013 Miss America Pageant at PH Live in Planet Hollywood on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013. Launch slideshow »

It’s a love affair that went cold when the Miss America Pageant no longer felt welcome or wanted in Las Vegas. After interviews with Las Vegas, New Jersey and Atlantic City officials, it’s the only conclusion for the prodigal pageant going home to its partner of more than 80 years after an eight-pageant fling here.

The Miss America Board approved what was said to be a “clear choice” of returning home just 48 hours before the news leaked out Wednesday, and Vegas DeLuxe reported the fallout on Thursday with officials here upset over the decision.

The renewed romance had begun six weeks earlier with a December phone call from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Atlantic County executive Dennis Levinson told the governor that the pageant’s contract with our Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority would expire after the Jan. 12 pageant.

In an interview with the Atlantic City Press, Dennis said: “I tried to impress upon the governor it was an opportunity the state should seize. Miss America is as much a part of this area as the beach and the boardwalk. The amount of exposure on national television is incredible. It was simple. Bring it back.”

It prompted the phone call, and Lt Gov. Kim Guadagno met with Miss America chief Sam Haskell the day after Christmas. It took six weeks to wrap up the deal while our LVCVA and Planet Hollywood tried to keep the pageant here but with reduced financial support.

When the Miss America team flew here to discuss the status three weeks ago, reportedly only one person here showed up to talk with them. Officials told the board back east that it was obvious then that Las Vegas had lost interest.

The lieutenant governor said: “We wanted to be in the fight to win them back here.” The deal was signed, sealed and delivered just six weeks after the December phone call. The unpaid, volunteer Miss America Board said, “It was a clear choice. We approved it immediately. It all came together.”

The pageant, which began in 1921, ended its Atlantic City run in 2005 when production costs of the TV show eclipsed $1 million in Boardwalk Hall. Miss America nearly missed TV exposure in the move here, but The Learning Channel turned it into a reality TV-driven show, leading to an ABC contract. ABC has extended its contract with Miss America for the next three years in Atlantic City.

It cost Miss America an estimated $4 million for the annual TV special from Planet Hollywood, including the time-buy from the network and the production costs for the 12 days here. Miss America recoups the advertising revenue in what is similar to a “four-wall theater engagement” here. John Palmieri of the Atlantic City Casino Authority estimates that it will take 20 days of production there because of logistics compared to Las Vegas, where Miss America events were nearly all at Planet Hollywood.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and Atlantic City Alliance, created by state legislation, will provide the financial incentives for Miss America’s move. The 800 businesses of the Chamber of Commerce also will sponsors events and contestants.

The first pageant under the new deal, complete with a boardwalk parade, takes place this September, probably the first or second weekend after Labor Day (Sept. 2). That means that 2013 Miss America Mallory Hagan will only hold her title and tiara for eight months, following her Jan. 12 crowning here, the shortest in the pageant’s eight-decade history. (It was reported erroneously last week that the first pageant would be in September 2014.)

“It will show that the boardwalk was not destroyed by Hurricane Sandy,” said Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority marketing chef Larry Sieg. “Miss America will show Atlantic City was unharmed and is open for business. It fits right into the plan for more signature events and not just casino gambling. It’s going to have quite an impact.”

Officials and residents there are betting the bank that after years of decreasing casino revenue and tourism figures, Atlantic City could reverse its fortunes with the pageant’s return. The city has had seven consecutive years of declining casino revenue. Last month, it was down more than 13 percent from January 2012. In total, it’s fallen more than 40 percent from a high of $5.2 billion in 2006 to about $3 billion last year, its lowest since 1991.

“No matter what it costs, the value to Atlantic City and the State of New Jersey is priceless,” the lieutenant governor summed up. “You can’t put a price tag on what it means to Atlantic City.”

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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