Rick Mazer, then a craps dealer just starting his casino career, was amazed by the big crowds that surged into Caesars Atlantic City during its grand opening June 26, 1979.

“When it opened at 10, by 10:02 your table was full and two deep,” Mazer recalled of the action at the craps games.

Now a senior executive, the 59-year-old Mazer has returned to Atlantic City from Las Vegas to take charge of Harrah’s Resort as its new regional president and general manager. In his new role, he wants to help Atlantic City recapture the excitement he experienced in the late 1970s — before the resort town was surrounded by a new crop of rival casinos in neighboring states.

Competition has driven down Atlantic City’s gambling revenue from its 2006 peak of $5.2 billion to $3 billion last year. Gambling revenue has declined another 9 percent for the first eight months of 2013.

“It’s still a $3 billion market,” an upbeat Mazer said. “It’s still a lot. Not as big as it used to be, but sizable.”

Mazer received regulatory approval Wednesday from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission to become Harrah’s new chief executive. Harrah’s is the flagship of the four Atlantic City casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp.

The three commission members seemed impressed by Mazer’s credentials, as well as his ties to the Atlantic City market.

“I’m glad you have enthusiasm for Atlantic City, as a lot of us do,” said Matthew Levinson, the commission chairman.

Acknowledging the challenges Atlantic City is facing, Mazer said it is crucial for the resort to distinguish itself from its rivals by becoming a broader tourist destination offering more than just gambling.

“We still see continuing pressure from neighboring states and the convenience market,” he told the commission. “I think we should continue to focus on nongaming, food and beverage and entertainment.”

To that end, Harrah’s is building a $126 million conference center that will help Atlantic City grab a larger share of the $16 billion conventions and meetings market in the Northeast. Currently, it captures only about a 1 percent share. Mazer will oversee the conference center, now in the early stages of construction.

Mazer said one reason Caesars Entertainment transferred him from Las Vegas to Atlantic City was to take advantage of his experience supervising major construction projects. Earlier in his career, while serving as general manager of the Horseshoe Hammond casino in northwestern Indiana, he was part of the property’s $500 million makeover.

Most recently, Mazer served as president of the Harrah’s, Flamingo and Quad casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. His duties there during the past four years included overseeing a $550 million redevelopment project that will transform part of the Strip with new upscale retail shops, trendy restaurants and an observation wheel soaring 550 feet high.

Caesars Entertainment, the world’s biggest casino company, controls about 40 percent of the Atlantic City market through its Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Showboat casinos. Mazer will concentrate on Harrah’s, while fellow Caesars Entertainment executive Kevin Ortzman will remain in charge of Bally’s, Caesars and Showboat, Mazer said.

Mazer described himself and Ortzman as co-leaders of the Atlantic City operations.

“We will work hand in hand,” Mazer said.

The company began restructuring its Atlantic City executive ranks following the departure of Don Marrandino, the former Eastern Division president who left in January for undisclosed reasons. Marrandino had been in charge of all four Caesars Entertainment casinos in Atlantic City as well as the Harrah’s racetrack casino in Chester, Pa.

Mazer replaces John Smith as general manager of Harrah’s Resort. Smith has left to become the regional president and general manager of Caesars Entertainment’s Horseshoe casino operations in southern Indiana.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258

Worked as a reporter for various weekly newspapers in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties before joining The Press many moons (and editors) ago as a business copy editor. Passionate about journalism, averse to serial commas.