ATLANTIC CITY — One of the executives who oversaw Resorts Atlantic City during its 1970s heyday said the money-losing casino should transform itself into a convention haven as part of its turnaround strategy under new ownership.

Steve Norton, who now serves as a private gaming consultant, said more conventions would fill the hotel rooms with lucrative customers and offset the typically slow midweek business cycles that plague Resorts and other casinos in town.

“They should target more meetings and conventions. Atlantic City has to move that way in order to offset the dependence on the casino side of things,” Norton said Tuesday.

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Resorts, the city’s oldest casino, is being bought by former Atlantic City gaming executive Dennis Gomes in a sale announced Monday. Gomes did not disclose the purchase price, but Norton said he heard it was about $50 million.

Gomes has not yet detailed his plans for revitalizing Resorts, but Norton and others say Gomes must quickly figure out a way to stop the casino’s losses — $18 million in 2009 and $10.8 million through the first six months this year.

“The fact of the matter is, the property definitely has seen better days. The property is hemorrhaging cash,” said gaming analyst Lawrence Klatzkin of Chapdelaine Credit Partners.

“He’s taking over a property that’s losing cash right now,” Norton said of Gomes. “That’s got to be his No. 1 concern. He’s got to get the property cash-neutral or positive.”

Norton, a senior executive at Resorts and its parent company from 1976 to 1990, contrasted the casino’s current money troubles to its cash-rich operations in Atlantic City’s early days of gambling. He noted that it cost just $30 million to develop Resorts, followed by $235 million of gaming revenue and $120 million in gross operating profits in the first year of business in 1978.

Through the first seven months this year, Resorts has grossed just $94.8 million in gaming revenue, down 17.2 percent from the same period in 2009. Compare that to the industry-leading $385 million in gross gaming revenue taken in so far by Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Of Atlantic City’s 11 casino hotels, only Trump Marina Hotel Casino — $86.6 million — has grossed less than Resorts this year.

Gomes earned a reputation as a turnaround artist when he was a senior executive at other casinos, including Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and Tropicana Casino and Resort, during a 30-year career in the gaming industry. He said one of his greatest challenges at Resorts will be to overcome its image as an outdated gaming hall.

“The perception of Resorts is tremendously different from the reality,” Gomes said. “When the place is energized and the customers feel it, they will come back. All that stuff about an old building is bull.”

Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, a casino consulting firm based in Linwood, said Gomes will have to attract capital investment to modernize Resorts’ aging physical condition.

“Clearly, there will be some need for capital investment,” Pollock said. “Capital investment is going to be one of the issues on the table: How much to invest, where to find it and where to deploy it.”

Gomes will take control of a casino that has 100,000 square feet of gaming space, two hotel towers with a total of 942 rooms, eight restaurants and 10.5 acres of adjacent, undeveloped land providing room for possible expansion. Resorts also has about 45,000 square feet of convention, ballroom and meeting space.

Norton believes Resorts should revise its business strategy to focus more on conventions, particularly during midweek lulls. Unfinished space on the second floor of the Rendezvous Tower, a 400-room hotel built in 2004, would be a prime area for conventions if Resorts converted it for that use, he said.

Although the casino is usually seen as untouchable, Norton raised the possibility of transforming 20,000 or 30,000 square feet of Resorts’ gaming floor into a more profitable use, perhaps some type of nongaming attraction.

“I doubt they need all of the casino floor now,” he said, alluding to Resorts’ declining customer base.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258

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