For more than three decades, Atlantic City's casino industry has been both a royal flush as well as a wild card for the resort town by the sea.
ATLANTIC CITY — Thirty-three years ago this weekend, Atlantic City embarked on an experiment to use casino gambling to reverse the sagging fortunes of the one-time grand dame of America’s seashore resorts, who had been down on her luck for a couple of decades.
The goals of the early Boardwalk gaming pioneers were lofty but well-intentioned. They wanted to create a sophisticated gaming experience that was more Monte Carlo than Las Vegas.
OK, so maybe James Bond playing chemin de fer in a tuxedo was wishful thinking. So, too, was the expectation that a dress code would actually hold up, although the first casino actually tried to enforce a requirement that men, at the very least, wear a sport jacket.
But it wasn’t just slot machines and blackjack tables that were going to return Atlantic City to prosperity and profitability. Entertainment was going to be a key component in the rejuvenation of a city once considered one of the country’s top show towns, a de rigueur stop for A-list entertainers on the nightclub circuit.
In fact, entertainment was more than just a marketing idea. It was required by state gaming laws that all casinos present some kind of show — be it a headline artist or a revue — seven nights a week, and not in a lounge, either.
On May 26, 1978, Resorts International opened the first legal casino outside Nevada. People waited in line on the Boardwalk for up to six hours just to get into the building, and then hours more to enter the tiny casino and actually find an open slot machine or seat at a gaming table.
In the casino’s 1,700-seat Superstar Theater — cobbled together from a former ballroom in the building’s previous life — Resorts presented America’s premier song birds, the husband and wife team of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, for 10 straight days.
“People think that because we were the first act in the room, that we were playing to a full house every night,” Lawrence, who threw out the first dice at a craps table, recalled years later. “But we didn’t.”
In fact, Resorts had trouble giving away tickets to the shows. Tickets sales picked up later in the run, but only because people realized that anyone who held a ticket for the show could get into Resorts without waiting in a long line for hours. Many ticket holders paid for a show they had no intention of seeing if it meant cutting down the wait time to get into the casino.
It’s not that Steve & Eydie weren’t big-name entertainers. Their recordings earned them Grammy Awards and their TV specials won them Emmys. They were the crème de la crème of the music business who sold out venues wherever they appeared.
But even their star power was no match for the powerful lure of one-armed bandits, blackjack tables, craps tables and roulette wheels.
“It wasn’t the first time we’d opened a hotel,” Gorme said when she and her husband performed at Resorts in 1993, on the 15th anniversary of gaming here. “But it was the first time we opened an era. We never saw anything like it.”
Today, Atlantic City bares little resemblance to the decaying town of three-plus decades ago. A total of 14 casino hotels opened between Resorts in 1978 and Borgata in 2003. Revel will be Atlantic City’s next new casino — and likely the last one to be built for years — when it opens in mid-2012.
Two properties — the Atlantis (nee Playboy) and the Sands — struggled to make ends meet and ultimately closed and were demolished. A third, the Claridge, was absorbed into Bally’s Atlantic City.
There’s a new player in Atlantic City as the Golden Nugget officially took over operations of the former Trump Marina Tuesday, promising a $100 to $150 million renovation of the aging, and frankly, somewhat boring casino.
Anyone who thinks gambling in Atlantic City can be traced back to the opening of the Resorts Casino in 1978 is cutting out a huge portion of the resort’s gaming history. Atlantic City’s history of back-room casinos and gambling dens is as old as the city’s Boardwalk. Still, gambling went through a dry spell as the city began to decline in the 1950s and ’60s and ...
The 11 Atlantic City casinos of today are not the only ones that have existed in Atlantic City since gambling was legalized. Here is a look at the Atlantic City casinos that were...
History is piled upon history when it comes to that significant moment when Resorts opened its door in 1978 as the first casino in Atlantic City. Resorts was able to jumpstart the casino era locally ...
Asking me to name my favorite Atlantic City casino is like asking me to name the best show I’ve ever seen. It can’t be done. Just as every great show has that one certain something that gives it its individuality, each of the city’s 11 casino hotels has a personality that makes it stand on its own, at least for me. For reasons that are as professional as they are sometimes personal, I’ve always maintained that each casino has one quality that sets it apart from the others. Yet none have — and probably never will — achieved “favored” status with me. It’s like me asking you to name your favorite kid. But there is one property that will forever have a very special place in my heart, and...
“I only wore this suit for you guys,” says Gomes, tugging at his collar. “When I’m working, you’ll never catch me in a suit.”
Taste of Revel Returns