At­lantic City wel­comes back 2 shut­tered casi­nos

The Standard Journal - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Wayne Parry Associated Press

AT­LANTIC CITY, N.J. — Pa­trons streamed into two newly re­opened At­lantic City casi­nos last week be­fore the July 4 hol­i­day as the strug­gling gam­bling re­sort re­claimed 6,000 of the 11,000 jobs it lost dur­ing a bru­tal stretch of casino shut­downs.

The Hard Rock, which was the former Trump Taj Ma­hal, was to hold a mass gui­tar smash­ing cer­e­mony in­side its con­cert arena that holds nearly 8,000 fans. Just as that wraps up, the Ocean Re­sort Casino, which is the former Revel, was to hold a rib­bon cut­ting a few hun­dred yards north on the board­walk.

“We be­lieve in At­lantic City,” said Jim Allen, CEO of Hard Rock In­ter­na­tional. “We truly be­lieve that At­lantic City’s best days are in front of it.”

The two shut­tered casi­nos re­opened ahead of sched­ule af­ter be­ing cleared to do so by New Jer­sey gam­bling reg­u­la­tors. Allen said the com­pany had spent $500 mil­lion ren­o­vat­ing the former Taj Ma­hal prop­erty.

“We promised you we wouldn’t just paint it and put up a gui­tar,” he said.

Af­ter a bru­tal two-year stretch in which five of its 12 casi­nos closed, At­lantic City now has nine. The re­open­ings have gen­er­ated cau­tious op­ti­mism for the sea­side gam­bling re­sort that once was the only place in Amer­ica out­side Ne­vada with casi­nos, but which has strug­gled might­ily as gam­bling spreads in states all around it.

Julie Her­ron, of nearby, Gal­loway Town­ship, New Jer­sey, was awe struck when she walked in­side the Hard Rock.

“It’s beau­ti­ful, just fan­tas­tic,” she said. “It’s re­ally up­lift­ing. The mu­sic is awe­some, just the rhythm. Some­times all you need is rhythm.”

Elvis Pres­ley’s Rolls Royce is one of the first things pa­trons see af­ter they pass un­der­neath the gi­ant replica of a Gib­son Les Paul elec­tric gui­tar (cherry sun­burst model) at the casino’s front en­trance.

“I’ve been an Elvis fan for­ever,” Joe Emanuele said. Driv­ing (very care­fully, with a po­lice es­cort) from a ware­house in nearby Pleas­antville, New Jer­sey, to the casino site, Emanuele, whose vast port­fo­lio at Hard Rock In­ter­na­tional in­cludes se­cur­ing mu­sic mem­o­ra­bilia, parked his der­riere in the same leather seat that once sup­ported the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll.”

“You feel a lit­tle bit of pres­tige be­hind the wheel,” he said. “This is Elvis’ car that he picked the Bea­tles up in when they first came to Los Angeles.”

The car is part of a vast trove of mem­o­ra­bilia on dis­play at the Hard Rock. There are gowns worn by Ste­vie Nicks and Whit­ney Hous­ton, and gui­tars played by Roy Or­bi­son, Bob Dy­lan and Katy Perry. There’s a leather stage out­fit worn by Aero­smith lead gui­tarist Joe Perry.

There’s even a New Jer­sey mem­o­ra­bilia room, in­clud­ing the hand­writ­ten lyrics to “Dream­ing” by Blondie’s Deb­bie Harry (a Hawthorne na­tive,) along with stuff from Bon Jovi, Wy­clef Jean, South­side Johnny, and a West­ern Union tele­gram con­firm­ing a $20,000 pay­ment for Ray Charles to per­form a con­cert on At­lantic City’s Steel Pier in 1978. And no one for­got the “Chair­man of the Board” Frank Si­na­tra, who was born in Hobo­ken.

Those who re­mem­ber the heavy­handed dec­o­rat­ing taste of Don­ald and Ivana Trump from the Taj Ma­hal days won’t rec­og­nize the place: The row af­ter row of chan­de­liers dom­i­nat­ing the view as pa­trons would ride the main es­ca­la­tor down to the casino floor are gone, sup­planted by a gi­ant sil­ver il­lu­mi­nated gui­tar sus­pended from the ceil­ing. Video screens sur­round­ing the es­ca­la­tors play clips of Bruce Spring­steen, Eric Clap­ton, Nirvana and Johnny Cash as cus­tomers de­scend to the casino floor.

At the Ocean Re­sort, owner Bruce Deifik has fixed most of what Revel’s former cus­tomers said they didn’t like about the place. It now al­lows smok­ing, will have a buf­fet within a few months, has re­con­fig­ured the casino floor to make it eas­ier to get around, and glass safety bar­ri­ers have been in­stalled on the main es­ca­la­tor that made many pa­trons un­com­fort­able.

It has a golf sim­u­la­tor, a res­tau­rant where kids and their par­ents can or­der ce­real at any time of day, and six swim­ming pools. Pop­u­lar fea­tures from Revel that are com­ing back in­clude an out­door pool day club, and a rock ’n’ roll bur­lesque club.

/ AP-Wayne Parry

Workers put the fin­ish­ing touches on a large elec­tric gui­tar replica on the front of the At­lantic City, N.J., Hard Rock casino — the former Trump Taj Ma­hal.

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