ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — There they are: the 52 Miss America contestants, on the Atlantic City Boardwalk — and not a moment too soon for a city that could use a happy diversion.
The hopefuls were welcomed to the seaside resort Tuesday afternoon to kick off two weeks that will culminate in the crowning of the 2017 Miss America on Sept. 11.
They arrived as Atlantic City faces yet another imminent casino closing — the Trump Taj Mahal is due to shut down on Oct. 10 — as well as a threatened state takeover of its finances and decision-making power.
The city also is bracing for the possibility that voters will choose to authorize two new casinos in the northern part of the state in a November referendum that Atlantic City officials fear will cause even more of the city's eight casinos to go out of business.
"Miss America is just what this city needs right now," said Mayor Don Guardian. "We may be struggling financially, but we know where we want to go. You certainly want to put your best foot forward, and this brings people to Atlantic City to have fun and enjoy what we have to offer."
The contestants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico met the public in front of Boardwalk Hall on Tuesday.
This year's competition is the 96th in the history of the pageant, which originated as a way to extend the summer tourist season in Atlantic City for an extra week beyond Labor Day.
The current Miss America, Betty Cantrell, recalled sitting on the same stage a year ago as one of more than 50 hopefuls.
"It seems like you're so small," she said. "You're one of 52 girls: how are you going to be noticed? The best thing you can do is just be yourself."
Cantrell, who was Miss Georgia, says she is headed to Nashville after the pageant to begin a career in country music.
"I'm thrilled to be passing on the crown to one of these amazing young women," she said. "I think it's in very good hands."
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