ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - New Jersey's Atlantic Club Casino Hotel shut down early Monday morning, the victim of a glut of casinos in the northeastern U.S.
Once Atlantic City's top-earning
casino, where then-owner Steve Wynn clowned with Frank Sinatra in commercials,
bringing the legendary singer an armful of fresh towels, the Atlantic Club went
out with a whimper. In the hours before the 12:01 a.m. closing, its restaurants
and bars had all shut down, and many gamblers and employees had already left.
The few die-hards that stayed on the
casino floor until the end counted down its final five seconds as dealers who
were suddenly unemployed burst into tears and hugged each other. Within
moments, casino staff began stacking and counting chips and preparing to remove
cash boxes from the casino floor.
"Where was our support?"
asked Kathy Buonasorte, a cocktail server for 28 of the casino's 33 years.
"They all left us. No politician helped us. No one came to save us."
On the sidewalk outside the casino,
she hugged Beth DeLuccia, another veteran cocktail server, who she described as
the first friend she made at the casino. Nearby, server Maureen Cohen had just
finished her final shift.
"I served my last drink at 4 this
afternoon," she said. "It was incredibly sad. Can you believe how
pathetic it's going to be to come over (a nearby) bridge and see a closed
casino?" She said people who used to work at the casino but hadn't been
there for 20 years came back Sunday to say goodbye.
The employees were among the 1,600
workers who lost their jobs. Cohen planned to attend an outreach session Monday
morning by the casino workers' union that would help them file for
unemployment, food stamps and other assistance.
"It's a sad day," said David
Rebuck, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, who watched the
shutdown process begin right after midnight. Dealers and security personnel set
to work counting the take from the casino's final day. Overnight, workers were
to read the meter on each of the hundreds of slot machines, empty the cash
containers and secure them in the counting room. At some point on Monday,
armored cars were to remove the remaining cash.
The hotel's safe deposit boxes had
been emptied hours before the shutdown as the final hotel guests checked out,
and front-desk cashier drawers were already removed, leaving gaping holes.
By Wednesday, crews from the
Tropicana, one of two rival casinos who bought the Atlantic Club intending to
put it out of business, will begin removing the slot machines and table games.
The casino floor will be bare by the end of the month, Rebuck said.
Guests helped themselves to souvenirs
as well, digging up or ripping out potted plants and even six-foot-tall trees
from planters on their way out the door.
It was the first casino closure in
Atlantic City since the Sands shut down in 2006. But that was intended to make
way for a bigger, better casino that Pinnacle Entertainment planned, but never
Struggling for years against newer,
bigger casinos in Atlantic City and in neighboring states, the Atlantic Club
sought a buyer for the last few years but was unable to attract one. It filed
for bankruptcy in November and was sold for a combined $23.4 million just
before Christmas to Tropicana Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment.
Tropicana bought the customer lists in addition to the table games and slot
machines while Caesars bought the 801-room hotel, for which it has no immediate
The Atlantic Club opened in December
1980 as the Golden Nugget, owned at the time by casino magnate Steve Wynn. Over
the years, as the Atlantic City casino market expanded, the casino changed
hands several times and went through a handful of names: The Grand, Bally's
Grand, the Atlantic City Hilton, ACH and finally the Atlantic Club.
As newer casinos opened with 2,000
rooms and hot nightclubs, pools and spas, it was no longer so special. It lost
market share to its local competitors, and the decline was hastened when the
first Pennsylvania casino opened in 2006.
The Atlantic Club was more dependent
than the others on convenience gamblers looking to play for a few hours, then
drive or ride the bus back home. It struggled further as many of its best
customers forsook it for gambling halls closer to their houses.
Its owners, Colony Capital LLC, a Los
Angeles hedge fund, paid more than a half billion dollars for it in 2005.
It searched in vain for a purchaser
for the past three years, before inking a deal in December 2012 to sell itself
to the PokerStars website for $15 million. But that deal fell apart within
months because of concerns over whether the website's management could qualify
for a casino license in New Jersey amid an unresolved indictment against the
Dealer Anthony Beauford, wearing a red
Atlanta Falcons Michael Vick football jersey on his last day of work, hugged
friends and well-wishers before tallying the chips on his table as they bade
"Don't say goodbye," he
admonished them. "Just say, "See ya.' Cause I hope I will