ATLANTIC CITY — Bring a rodeo to town?
Yep, with cowboys, horses and bulls.
There was a collective reaction of surprise from everyone in the room when gaming executive Dennis Gomes suggested a rodeo for Atlantic City at one of Mayor Lorenzo Langford’s Strategic Planning Committee meetings.
But Gomes pleaded his case, and with the help of many — including chairwoman of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo Janet Markowitz — the Resorts Casino Hotel chief executive officer is bringing the first rodeo to Boardwalk Hall on April 1-3, it was announced Wednesday.
The Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo is a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association-sanctioned event and is sponsored by every casino in Atlantic City. City officials are promoting the rodeo’s fun aspect, which started at Wednesday’s press conference.
There were horses on the Boardwalk with cowboys on their backs. A sheriff on stilts greeted those who attended, which got Langford, who wore a cowboy hat, to quip: “I would like to remind everyone to mind their manners. We have a new sheriff in town, and he doesn’t take any stuff.”
Gomes used to attend rodeos when he was a child. His family would drive two hours to a big one in Salinas, Calif., and the young Gomes loved every minute of it. When he moved to Nevada and was a gaming executive there, he was instrumental in bringing a national rodeo championship to the state.
“I thought it would be great to have people here experience the same thing I did when I was a child,” Gomes said.
This will be the first full-fledged rodeo to be held in Atlantic City. The Professional Bull Riders tour appeared at Boardwalk Hall in 2003.
But the PRCA doesn’t just have bull riding. There are seven events: bareback horse riding, tie-down roping, saddle bronc riding, team roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling and bull riding.
The prize purse will be $56,000, with 10 to 12 contestants in each event.
Even though there is just a one-year contract in place, promoter John Barnes says he plans to stay in Atlantic City for the long haul.
“The thing with us is we don’t worry what’s written on paper,” Barnes said. “Our work ethic will be great in Atlantic City. We have more done with a handshake than we do on paper.”
The Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo is the first event brought to the city by the mayor’s Strategic Planning Committee. It adds to an already brimming sports calendar for the resort.
The NJSIAA individual wrestling championships begin several weekends of sporting events on March 4-5, followed by the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball championship (March 11-13) and the ECAC men’s Division I college hockey tournament (March 18-19).
“When we created the Strategic Planning Committee about a year ago, we promised to do our best collectively to bring things which had not been before,” said Langford, who said he has passed Cowtown Rodeo on Route 40 in Salem County a number of times and always wanted to go.
“When (Gomes) first proposed the idea, I looked at the faces of some in attendance, and they had the look of, ‘I’m not so sure.’ But Dennis is very persuasive. I can’t wait for this thing to happen.”
Markowitz, 58, of Margate, was surprised when she was picked to head the committee for the rodeo. She owns Chester’s Flowers in Atlantic City and didn’t want to be part of it because she didn’t know anything about rodeos.
But she went home after that meeting and bought a pair of cowboy boots.
She figured if she had to do it, she might as well look the part.
“My first reaction was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’” said Markowitz, who bought Langford a cowboy hat a few months ago. “Now, what I see is that it’s fabulous. I think for Atlantic City it’s a perfect match. It attracts old, young, everybody. It’s wholesome, clean fun, and I think it’s part of what Atlantic City needs.”
It took nearly nine months of planning to bring the PRCA rodeo event to fruition. Slowly, the casinos began to get on board with the rodeo, but Markowitz wasn’t sure how many of them would sponsor the event.
“It was a rocky start,” said Markowitz, who would plan the rodeo on the phone while putting together flower arrangements. “But like a domino effect, they all came together.”
Transforming Boardwalk Hall into the biggest rodeo on the East Coast will not be easy. Five to six trucks will bring in 561 cubic yards of dirt to the floor of Boardwalk Hall. Stocks in the arena will be custom built for the show.
West Hall will be transformed into a livestock area for the animals. There will be roughly 50 tiny cattle, 30 bulls and 40 horses brought in for the rodeo, but only the animals that will be used on that day will be kept at West Hall. The rest will be at a nearby facility.
“A lot of things have to transition to make this rodeo friendly,” Barnes said. “But it will be safe, it will be wonderful and 100 percent the way it needs to be.”
Ticket information: Tickets are on sale and are priced, $16, $31, $51 and $102. Family four packs are avilable for $79 and include four $31 tickets, four hot dogs and four soft drinks.
Tickets can be purchased at the Boardwalk Hall Box Office and all Ticketmaster locations.
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