Atlantic City’s Embrace of Tattoo Expo Reflects How Ink Culture Has Evolved

After the Atlantic City Tattoo Expo debuted in 2001, it wasn't always warmly received. Two decades later, however, the cultural shift has been "huge."

AC Tattoo Expo
Tattoo culture has changed, as shown by the Atlantic City Tattoo Expo. Casinos used to avoid the event, but Hard Rock is hosting for the second time this year. Photo courtesy of Beau Ridge Photography

Jon Henderson remembers casinos being wary of hosting the Atlantic City Tattoo Expo’s inaugural event in 2001.

Henderson, executive producer at Good Time Tricycle Productions in Linwood, and Marc Fairchild, owner of Lucky Street Tattoo in North Carolina, founded the expo, which initially called the Atlantic City Convention Center home. Back then, tattoos weren’t as socially accepted as they are now, which meant staying in the background of Atlantic City’s main attractions.

“Casinos didn’t want any part of the show. ‘We don’t want those people walking around our buildings,’” Henderson recalls hearing. “The cultural shift from 2001 to 2022 is huge.”

This year, the Atlantic City Tattoo Expo is returning to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which hosted for the first time in 2021. The extravaganza starts Friday, November 4, and runs through Sunday, November 6. Naturally, attendees can get tattoos at the expo as walk-ins or by booking in advance. Roughly 150 artists are going to be on-site, including Eva Mohrman, co-owner of East Brunswick’s Constantly Custom Tattoo and Piercing Studio. 

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She can also attest to the cultural change the tattoo world has experienced. Mohrman remembers being a teen who had a half-sleeve by the time prom weekend rolled around—and having to hide it from her mom. At the time, even a little ink prompted concerns over one’s employment prospects. But Mohrman, who is mostly covered in ink now, says that’s no longer the case. “You can get any job now, even being massively tattooed,” she says, noting that even the Marine Corps recently loosened its tattoo policy. “I have people from all occupations getting tattooed.”

Mohrman is attending the expo for the first time with three other Constantly Custom artists. She anticipates doing a few tattoos per day. She specializes in fine-line and traditional styles, and will take walk-ups Friday and Saturday before working on pre-booked clients Sunday.

Mohrman says artists charge about $150 per hour, though prices at the expo can vary drastically because of flash sales and the high demand for better-known artists. Admission for the expo is $20 per day, $35 for a two-day pass, or $50 for the entire weekend.

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Attendees don’t have to get needled. Other entertainment includes tattoo contests, mixed–martial arts demonstrations, and a sideshow called, “Stupid Shit People Do for Money,” a game for attendees involving absurd competitions. “We’re in a casino town, so we like to give cash away,” Henderson explains, adding that mixed martial arts and tattoo culture overlap. On November 5, Puscifer, a rock band suited to a tattooed crowd, is performing at the Hard Rock, a venue filled with unique music memorabilia and plenty of gaming options.

Henderson notes that the expo also lends itself to “fantastic people watching.”

After two decades, Henderson has also watched the expo—and the tattoo industry—grow. He never imagined either becoming so popular.

“It was a celebration of art and expression and some of the abilities that tattoo artists had in 2001. Which, fast-forward 21 years, is insanely different. The technology is different. The styles have evolved,” Henderson says. “I’m grateful to bear witness to that, and I know Marc echoes that as well. We’ve gotten to watch this dynamic shift.”