Chairman Hugh M. Hefner and his Playboy Enterprises opened the Playboy Hotel and Casino on April 14, 1981, in Atlantic City, but he never turned into a fixture in the resort like fellow casino owners Merv Griffin and Donald Trump.

Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, died Wednesday at the Playboy Mansion surrounded by loved ones, the magazine said in a statement. He was 91. He died of natural causes, the statement read.

David J. Spatz recalls meeting Hefner once at the Playboy. Spatz is the news director for Longport Media and Atlantic City-based entertainment columnist for At The Shore.

“I do not remember him making appearances. ... Everything else about it (the casino) was Playboy, but Hef was hardly every there,” said Spatz, who covered casino entertainment at The Press at that time. “He wasn’t as ubiquitous at Playboy as Trump was at his casinos.”

In contrast to Hefner, Griffin, the TV host and media mogul, practically lived at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City when he owned it, Spatz said.

Hefner was known for wearing silk pajamas when he was home at his Playboy Mansion. The women, who worked as waitresses at his Playboy clubs and casinos, wore bunny costumes, which consisted of oversized bunny ears, a fluffy cotton tail, bow-tie collars and cuffs.

Joann DelVescio was the 10th person hired by the company in 1979 when the piling was being driven for the building.

“My time at Playboy, it was the best. It was a great company to work for,” said DelVescio, 60.

DelVescio, who lives in Cape May County, was hired as administrative assistant to the international gaming director.

During a decade that spanned the Playboy and the subsequent casino located at the site, the Atlantis, DelVescio was executive assistant to the president, director of community relations and director of casino marketing and special events.

DelVescio said she only remembers meeting Hefner twice in New Jersey, once around the time of the casino’s opening and when Hefner came into town for the state Casino Control Commission hearing for the license. She didn’t recall even seeing him again after summer 1982 in Atlantic City.

“We had people who came from all over the world that came to open up Playboy. I have friends to this day from Australia, London, New Zealand and Las Vegas. Those ties go way back, and we are still friends,” DelVescio said. “It was exciting to be opening up a new casino. It was a brand new industry for a lot of us who came from outside the industry.”

DelVescio, now the executive director of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association, attended at least one reunion of the Playboy staff during the 1990s at Ocean One in Atlantic City, she said.

Playboy Magazine was what Hefner was known for, more than casinos and clubs. The magazine made some women famous as centerfolds, such as Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy and Carmen Electra. Other women’s nude photos appeared in the magazine, including Marilyn Monroe, Madonna and Drew Barrymore.

A major reason Hefner was never a regular in the resort is he was only involved with the Playboy Casino for a short time.

The Playboy Casino was a partnership between Playboy and Elsinore Corp. of Las Vegas. The city’s seventh casino was its third-largest, and it opened with a temporary casino permit. The building was the city’s first casino hotel to be built from scratch, as entirely new construction.

Daniel Heneghan, public information officer for the state Casino Control Commission, remembers meeting Hefner at the time of the licensing hearing for the Playboy in 1982. Heneghan was covering casinos for The Press at the time.

“Hefner wasn’t really a big force in town. There were issues. The commission found him unsuitable,” Heneghan said.

The commission denied Hefner, the Playboy chairman, a gaming license because it believed he lied on the witness stand during his license hearing. The commission found Playboy Enterprises and Hefner bribed New York City officials in the early 1960s.

“Hefner and Playboy should have said no the first time they were told it would require illegal payment to obtain a liquor license in New York,” Commissioner Carl Zeitz wrote in his explanation as to why he voted against Hefner.

Playboy sold its 45.7 percent stake in the casino in April 1984, and two months later, Elsinore changed the property’s name to the Atlantis Hotel and Casino. The Atlantis Casino operated from 1984 to May 22, 1989. It was the first Atlantic City casino to be shut down.

Donald Trump bought the Atlantis in June 1989 and turned it into the Trump Regency Hotel, a luxury non-casino hotel.

Trump reopened the casino in May 1996 and changed the name to Trump World’s Fair at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. It was permanently closed Oct. 3, 1999, and demolished in 2000.

Hefner is survived by his wife, Crystal, as well as his daughter, Christie; and his sons, David, Marston and Cooper.

Playboy released no information on any memorial plans, but Hefner owns a burial plot at a Los Angeles cemetery next to Marilyn Monroe.

The Associated Press contributed

Never miss breaking news as it happens! Sign up now to receive alerts delivered to your inbox.

Contact: 609-272-7202


Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.