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Dedicated to the preservation and education of Gaming History
Gaming in Atlantic City..............
A History of Legal Gambling in New Jersey -
Part Two -- By Stephen Piccolo
Most people are aware that the vote to legalize gambling in Atlantic City
passed in 1976. What most are unaware of is that is was the
fourth attempt to legalize gambling in New Jersey. Some of the
reasons Atlantic City was always included in any talk of legal casinos was the
fact that the one time “Queen of Resorts” had been in steady decline since 1945.
Between 1960 and 1970 alone, the population of the city decreased 20%. Hotel
rooms in the city also fell by a staggering 40% and 4,500 jobs were lost. It was
time for drastic measures to help the city regain its one time title and casinos
were thought to be the savior!
In 1970, the first bill was introduced to the New Jersey Assembly looking to
legalize casinos in Atlantic City only. This first bill failed to get to the
voters and died in the state senate. In 1973, three proposals were introduced
this time. The first attempted to repeal the anti-gambling provision from the
state constitution. The second wanted to authorize legislation for a limited
number of state operated casinos or state licensed casinos. The third proposal
was to authorize a state supervised “numbers” game. All three measures were
killed in the Assembly. In 1974, another bill was introduced this time passing
the Assembly and going to the voters in the elections held in November of that
year. The measure, as presented to the voters, called for legalization of
casinos throughout the state pending local approval. The measure was expected to
pass easily, so very little pro-casino campaigning was done. The measure was
soundly defeated in November of 1974 by a three to two margin spurred primarily
by “No Dice” - a coalition formed by a group of state assembly
members, various church groups and some prominent New Jersey officials who
campaigned heavily against the casinos citing increased crime, prostitution and
corrupt morals. Their message worked! There was very little “positive”
campaigning for this referendum, a mistake that was not repeated in 1976!
Although defeated, the issue of gaming would not die and in 1976, two more
bills were introduced to the Assembly. Both were similar in that they called for
casinos in Atlantic City only. The differences were that one was for state run
casinos with the revenue generated going to the elderly and handicapped citizens
of New Jersey and the second called for privately operated casinos with the
revenue going to the state’s general fund. It was apparent that the two bills
needed to be merged and a compromise bill was introduced that specified private
ownership of the casinos with the revenue generated for the state going directly
to help the elderly and handicapped of the state. The compromise bill passed the
Assembly in the summer of 1976 to be placed on the November ballot. This time
around, the bill was pushed heavily as a way to re-vitalize a dying city plus
help the elderly and handicapped of the state without a tax increase. The
benefits were pushed more than the casinos. NO DICE was still around this time
but a lack of funds prevented the coalition from launching a large scale media
campaign against the casino bill. This time the voters passed the measure by a
three to two margin. The pro-casino forces out spent NO DICE by a sixty to one
margin in this campaign which also helped pass the measure this time around. The
fact that NO DICE, this time, seemed to be against the elderly and handicapped
and the revival of Atlantic City also did not help their anti-casino message. A
short eighteen months after the voters passed the casino legislation, the first
casino opened on the boardwalk in Atlantic City - Resorts International.
Resorts was the first company to support the referendum with money. They
were already buying land on the boardwalk paying $2.5 million for the Chalfonte-
Haddon Hall hotel. By doing this, instead of building a new hotel, Resorts
gained at least a year on its competition and was able to save millions of
dollars. The hotel was the only one in Atlantic City to meet the 500 room
minimum requirement to open a casino. All the others with smaller hotels and
thoughts of adding on were told to tear them down and build from scratch. The
state did not want Atlantic City to be a series of “patch-and-paint” jobs. By
May 1, 1978, the 1000 rooms of the Chalfonte - Haddon Hall were reduced to 566
to allow for the casino, restaurants, shops and to meet the required 325 square
foot minimum for each guest room. Everything was ready to go, dealers trained,
chips ordered and delivered, restaurants and shops open and slots installed.
Atlantic City changed for good at 10:00 AM on May 26, 1978 when the casino
finally opened. Back in the old days, the casino laws in New Jersey allowed for
eighteen hours of gaming during the week and twenty hours on weekends. The
casino always opened at 10:00 AM each morning, closing at 4:00 AM or 6:00 AM,
whichever was valid. I also remember the lines forming around 9:00 AM waiting to
get in. If you were a guest of the hotel, you received a pass to get in so you
did not have to wait on line. Yes, it was that crazy back then!
Resorts history starts in the Bahamas as the Mary Carter Paint Company which
was based in Tampa, Florida. In 1963, wanting to branch out, they bought 3500
acres on Grand Bahama Island and built a residential development called Queens
Grove. From here they became a partner in Paradise Island and ran a small casino
in Nassau until the Paradise Island Hotel was ready to open. The new casino
opened in December of 1967. In 1968, the Mary Carter Paint Company was sold for
$9.9 million and three months later Resorts International was born with visions
of owning and operating casinos around the world. Soon after the 1974 defeat of
the gambling referendum in New Jersey is when Resorts started to become active
in Atlantic City, hearing that another bill limiting gambling to Atlantic City
was in the works.
Resorts purchased an option on fifty-five acres of boardwalk fronted land
from the Housing and Re-Development Authority. Other small parcels were also
bought along with the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall hotel and adjacent property making
Resorts, at one time, the largest private land owner in Atlantic City. The
Showboat Hotel-Casino in Atlantic City sits on land leased to
them by Resorts.
Early on, Resorts stock soared as its head start on everyone else paid quick
dividends. As more casinos opened however, Resorts, being old and not opting for
a major renovation, began to lose its appeal to the newer, flashier places in
town. Resorts answer to this was the Taj Mahal project. Started in the mid
1980's, Resorts was never able to complete the project due to financial
problems. In 1987, Donald Trump bought a controlling block of Resorts stock.
Later that year Trump offered to buy the remaining outstanding stock in Resorts.
Early in 1988, Merv Griffin also made a bid for Resorts attempting to wrest it
away from Trump. A two month battle ensued with Griffin and Trump finally
reaching a deal. Merv Griffin was to receive all of Resorts except for the Taj
Mahal project which went to Trump. Since the takeover by Merv Griffin, Resorts
has spent nearly $90 million to improve the property. He also sold the Bahamas
casino-hotel to Sun International, now known as Atlantis. Resorts has been
holding its own against the giants and even posted its first operating profit in
years. A major expansion has even been announced adding more rooms and public
space to be completed in the next few years. Looks as if casino number one has
survived and is here to stay.
Next issue - Caesars Boardwalk Regency and Bally’s Park Place, casinos
number two and three.