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Miss America Pageant heads home to Atlantic City

(Reuters) - And the winner is... Atlantic City, New Jersey, which will once again host the Miss America pageant.

After seven years in Las Vegas, the annual contest will return in September to the place where it began more than 90 years ago, organizers said on Thursday.

"New Jersey is proud to once again host the Miss America Pageant here in Atlantic City," New Jersey's Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno said in a statement.

The pageant, which combines beauty and brains, left the oceanside resort now known for its casinos in favor of Las Vegas in 2006. Officials decided it was too expensive to continue producing the show in Atlantic City, where it was launched in 1921 in a bid to extend the summer tourist season beyond early September.

"Miss America is part of the tapestry of this country," Sam Haskell, the chairman of the Miss America Organization, told Reuters. "Coming back to Atlantic City where it all began is how we hold on to our past yet create a relevant future."

Its return could be a boon to the beleaguered city, following the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy in October.

The pageant will bring in at least $30 million, according to the Atlantic City Alliance. Plus, Miss America officials say, the last pageant in Las Vegas in January 2013 generated nearly $30 million worth of publicity for the desert gambling mecca.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and other officials approached the Miss America organization as its contract with Las Vegas was expiring, Haskell said.

No taxpayer money will be used in enticing the pageant to return. The Atlantic City Alliance, which is funded by casinos, will provide unspecified financial incentives, and individual casinos are also contributing, Haskell said.

The Miss America organization also announced a new three-year deal to broadcast the pageant on ABC television, a unit of Walt Disney Co.

Miss America is open to those between the ages of 17 and 24 and awards educational scholarships to winners and contestants. The winner embarks on a year-long national speaking tour promoting an issue that is close to her heart and of relevance to the United States.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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