ATLANTIC CITY — From gay bingo nights at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort to “Out in Atlantic City” events at the Caesars Entertainment Corp. properties, Atlantic City is building a reputation as a gay-friendly tourist town.
The new owner of Resorts Casino Hotel has taken it to another level by hiring the gaming industry’s first marketing director devoted strictly to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, or LGBT for short.
Resorts’ appointment of Joel Ballesteros as director of alternative lifestyle marketing could be followed by something that would amp up the gay-party scene even more — the first gay nightclub at an Atlantic City casino.
Dennis Gomes, chief executive officer at Resorts, confirmed that he is considering a gay nightclub as part of a marketing strategy that would continue to transform Atlantic City’s oldest casino hotel under his ownership.
“A gay nightclub is one of the things being proposed,” Gomes said. “It may happen. It’s a good possibility. If we do have a nightclub like that, it will be focused on the gay community, but open to everyone.”
Gomes and New York real estate magnate Morris Bailey bought the financially ailing Resorts in December for the bargain price of $31.5 million. They have rebranded the casino with a Roaring ’20s theme to capitalize on the national publicity of the hit HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” which is inspired by Prohibition-era Atlantic City.
Back in the 1920s, Atlantic City’s gay community was concentrated along Westminster Avenue, a stretch between New York and Kentucky avenues dubbed “Snake Alley,” Ballesteros said.
Resorts is still developing its gay-oriented marketing strategy under Ballesteros. One of the first events will be a La Cage aux Folles-like show, called “Believe,” that will debut on May 5.
“Our goal is to be an all-inclusive place, which includes the LGBT community. We want to create a safe, fun atmosphere for everyone,” Ballesteros said.
Ballesteros, 41, came to Atlantic City from California, where he was a flight attendant for the now-defunct American Trans Air. As the former special events coordinator at the Ram’s Head Inn in Galloway Township, he created “Out at the Inn” events on Monday nights for the gay crowd.
“I found that when I moved here, there weren’t many options for the LGBT community,” he said. “At the Ram’s Head, we started off with word-of-mouth and online advertising. We started with about 160 to 180 people and it has gone up from there.”
Gomes hopes Ballesteros will bring the same energy to Resorts. Although Ballesteros is the first casino marketing executive to hold the “alternative lifestyle” title, Gomes noted that other properties in town are courting gay customers.
“Yes, it’s a money-making venture,” he said. “But the reality is, it’s also a human aspect to our society that we want to embrace. We don’t want to exclude anybody.
“It’s the same way that we go after the Asian market or go after different ethnic markets,” Gomes continued. “We go after different age groups and different lifestyle groups.”
Atlantic City is pursuing more niche markets such as gay and lesbian groups to offset the loss of other customers who have either cut back on their spending for gambling trips or now take their business to rival casinos in surrounding states.
Caesars Entertainment Corp., owner of the Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Showboat casinos in Atlantic City, began catering to the LGBT community in a major way when it held its “Out in Atlantic City” weekend party events in 2009 and 2010.
Jennifer Weissman, regional vice president of marketing for Caesars Entertainment, said similar events will be organized this year to follow up on the success of the past two years.
Trump Taj Mahal held gay bingo nights last summer during a promotional event advertised as “fun and gay’mes.” Trump spokesman Brian Cahill said the Taj Mahal currently does not have any gay bingo nights scheduled for this year.
Larry Sieg, president of the Greater Atlantic City Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Alliance, said Resorts’ hiring of Ballesteros is unprecedented in the gaming industry here.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity not only for Resorts, but it’s also an incredible thing for the city,” Sieg said.
As a group, the gay community tends to travel more and have more disposal income than other demographic segments, surveys show. Community Marketing Inc., a gay-market research group based in San Francisco, says gays and lesbians spend $64.5 billion annually in the U.S. travel market.
However, Atlantic City did not make the Top 10 U.S. tourism destinations for LGBT leisure and business travelers in Community Marketing’s 2010 survey. New York and San Francisco were the top two, followed by a tie between Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles for third.
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