ATLANTIC CITY - In a play off its new Roaring '20s theme, Resorts Casino Hotel opened a gay nightclub Thursday called Prohibition.

Resorts, Atlantic City's oldest casino, is the first gaming hall in town to operate a nightclub catering to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, crowd.

"Atlantic City has plenty of world-class amenities, but no full-scale casino gay nightclub, and now Resorts will fill that void with Prohibition," Joel Ballesteros, Resorts' newly appointed director of LGBT marketing said in a statement.

With little fanfare or advance notice, the club threw open its doors at 6 p.m. Resorts issued a press release just minutes before the grand opening.

The nightclub's name will fit in with Resorts' rebranding into a Roaring '20s theme under new ownership led by Chief Executive Officer Dennis Gomes and New York real estate magnate Morris Bailey. Gomes and Bailey, who bought Resorts in December for $31.5 million, hope to capitalize on the national publicity of the hit HBO series "Boardwalk Empire," which is inspired by Prohibition-era Atlantic City.

Gomes has been trying to revitalize the aging casino by attracting a younger crowd, including the hiring of sexy cocktail servers who will parade around in skimpy costumes reminiscent of the outfits worn by 1920s flapper girls.

"Our whole philosophy here is to bring in all the different markets," Gomes said in an interview. "If there's a strategy, it's that we embrace everybody in all market segments."

Gaming analyst Cory H. Morowitz said a gay nightclub will help Resorts distinguish itself in the highly competitive casino industry. He also said the nightclub will cater to what has been an underserved part of the marketplace.

"The strategy to go after different or niche markets is the right strategy for a property like Resorts," said Morowitz, chairman of Morowitz Gaming Advisors LLC. "I think that's exactly the type of thing they should be doing. Atlantic City is a very competitive place and everybody is fighting after the same customers. If you can draw a market that is currently underserved and become known as a place where those markets are catered to, that's a way to differentiate yourself."

Morowitz doubted that a gay nightclub would create any backlash among Resorts' traditional, older customer base. He noted that gay nightclubs have successfully operated for years in Atlantic City outside the casinos.

"I think as a society we have moved past that. I don't see that as an issue, especially in the somewhat liberal Northeast," Morowitz said. "I think it's smart. It's exciting. It creates something new for the property."

Resorts hinted that it would open Atlantic City's first gay casino nightclub when it hired Ballesteros in March. Ballesteros is the first casino executive in Atlantic City devoted solely to LGBT marketing.

"Resorts is going to be the place for fun, excitement and a one-of-a-kind energy that will attract people of all lifestyles, and now we have the amenities that can cater to everyone," Ballesteros said.

Prohibition is located on the 13th floor of the Ocean Tower, where Club 1133 used to be. It will be open Thursday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. It will feature a lounge atmosphere during the early hours, then transition into a dance club later in the night. It is located on the same floor as Resorts' screening room, which recently debuted "Believe, Divas in a Man's World," a female impersonator show that is also targeted to the LGBT crowd.

Keith Herbert, 46, of Galloway Township, sat at the bar Thursday evening for the opening night of Prohibition.

"I think it's fantastic what Resorts is doing for the community. It's beyond words," said Herbert, who also added that it was about about time that a casino opened a nightclub catering to that market. "It's phenomenal what Dennis (Gomes, chief executive officer of Resorts) has done. He opened his arms to the community."

Herbert said he has lived in Galloway Township for the past eight years. During his time, the Ram's Head Inn in Galloway Township started its "Out at the Inn" events on Monday nights for the gay crowd.

When Herbert first moved to Atlantic County, there were no bars catering to alternative lifestyles.

The Westside Bar & Lounge opened in Atlantic City a couple of years ago, but Herbert found Prohibition to be a classy alternative with great music to bring in the old and young.

"This is the first for a major resort. God bless them for taking that step. They are putting it out there," said Herbert, who added he is from Washington D.C., and he went to gay bars there.

GiGi DiOrio, 50, of Philadelphia, is the mother of Joseph DiOrio, 28, one of the cocktail servers in Prohibition.

"It's fabulous that they have some place to be open and free," GiGi DiOrio said. "This is the beginning of a long relationship with Resorts. It's the best thing to ever happen in Atlantic City for the gay community."

On its opening night, people mingled before 9 p.m., and then left to attend "Believe, Divas in a Man's World" with the expectation that they would return to the nightclub after the show ended.

The nightclub features three video screens over the bar showing music videos and two larger screens at its opposite end, which is the entrance. The 300-capacity nightclub has a dance floor with one palm tree placed at each edge.

Couches are against the walls of the club for people to sit down. The DJ played mixed music live from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., after preprogrammed music from artists such as Michael Jackson and RuPaul was played during the club's earlier lounge hours.

Joel Ballesteros, Resorts' director of LGBT marketing, said it has been a long time coming to bring back gay nightlife to Atlantic City. The rainbow-colored LGBT flag flies outside of Resorts, and it can be seen as a person is driving up to the casino, Ballesteros said.

Atlantic City's gaming industry has been catering more to the LGBT market in the past two years by staging a series of special events ranging from gay bingo nights at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort to the "Out in Atlantic City" parties at the Caesars Entertainment Corp. casinos.

Gomes said Resorts is planning to hold a more elaborate grand opening ceremony for the nightclub during the Memorial Day weekend, the same time the casino is expected to complete its Roaring '20s retheming.

Features Editor Vincent Jackson contributed to this report.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258