Mark Giannantonio got his start in the casino industry 30 years ago, working as a room service waiter at Resorts Casino Hotel while he was still in college.
Now, he will run the place.
Giannantonio, 48, is taking charge of Resorts as the new chief executive officer as part of a management restructuring by the casino’s new operator, the Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun gambling empire.
He will officially become president and CEO on Monday, pending final regulatory approval. He will lead a management team that includes former Trump Entertainment Resorts executive Mark Sachais as Resorts’ new vice president of hotel operations.
Giannantonio had most recently served as Resorts’ vice president of hotel operations. He joined Resorts in September following a management deal that put Mohegan Sun in charge of the casino’s operation.
Giannantonio landed at Resorts following his 2011 ouster as president of Tropicana Casino and Resort. He was named Tropicana’s boss in 2007 while the casino was still floundering under the previous ownership of Columbia Sussex Corp. He guided Tropicana through a turbulent bankruptcy that ended with billionaire investor Carl Icahn buying the property in 2010. Icahn shook up the management ranks and replaced Giannantonio with another Atlantic City casino veteran, Tony Rodio.
As Resorts’ new CEO, Giannantonio will oversee the $60 million expansion and makeover of Atlantic City’s oldest casino. The centerpiece will be a $35 million Margaritaville-themed restaurant, bar and casino project scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend.
“All of these projects combined will help us attract more premium customers and more customers and people who want to have a great time here,” Giannantonio said in an interview Wednesday.
New upgrades at Resorts also include renovated hotel rooms, two new VIP lounges, a high-limit slots area, a food court and new carpeting on the casino floor that will complement Margaritaville’s tropical theme. Resorts will refurbish the bathrooms in 259 guest rooms in the Ocean Tower.
Resorts has been a property in transition since the February 2012 death of its former CEO and co-owner, Dennis Gomes. Morris Bailey, the New York real estate mogul who owns 90 percent of Resorts, brought in Mohegan Sun last fall to oversee the casino’s management. The Indian tribe owns the Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut and Pennsylvania and holds a 10 percent stake in Resorts.
Resorts is now linked with the Mohegan Sun casinos in a marketing program that allows customers to use their rewards points for hotel stays, dining and entertainment at all three properties. The combination of two well-known casino brands in the Northeast has helped Resorts to finally return to profitability after years of losses.
Giannantonio is looking to build on Resorts’ modest profitability to make the casino even stronger. Resorts turned a $199,000 gross operating profit in the second quarter of 2012 and a $694,000 gross operating profit in the third quarter. Operating profits for the fourth quarter will be released later.
“We’re looking at everything we do, whether it’s entertainment or advertising or marketing,” Giannantonio said. “The most important goal for me is to sustain Resorts at a certain level of profitability. Morris Bailey deserves that, and we’re going to work to make that happen.”
In the past few months, Resorts has been run by Gary Van Hettinga, president of Mohegan Gaming Advisors, Mohegan Sun’s management subsidiary. Van Hettinga said in November that Resorts would appoint a new CEO in January. On Wednesday, Van Hettinga described Giannantonio as “the perfect choice” for the job.
“Mark Giannantonio has already proven to be a very strong asset and we are confident in his abilities to lead Resorts as it embarks on a new era with the addition of the Margaritaville entertainment complex,” Van Hettinga said in a statement. “We are excited about all of the opportunities Resorts will have in 2013, and we feel Mark is the perfect choice.”
Giannantonio, of Northfield, has spent his entire 30-year casino career in Atlantic City. He began as a room service waiter at Resorts while he was still a student at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. He later became an operations analyst in the food and beverage department at Tropicana, beginning a climb through the management ranks that culminated with his appointment as president there in 2007.
Despite Atlantic City’s six-year revenue slump — caused by the fragile economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states — Giannantonio believes the town will make a comeback.
“I was born and raised in Atlantic City, and nothing would make me happier than to see Atlantic City successful,” he said. “This is still a viable gaming market that has a bright future.”
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