ATLANTIC CITY - Showboat Casino Hotel is letting sleeping dogs lie in its guest rooms.
On Thursday, Showboat became Atlantic City's first dog-friendly casino hotel - a marketing ploy designed to draw more human customers to a tourist town just begging for business.
One of the first four-legged guests to check in was Baci, a 10-year-old male Maltese owned by Phyllis Pette, of Manhattan.
"I honestly didn't think this day would ever come," Pette said of being able to bring her dog to a casino.
Baci was resting comfortably on the bed in Pette's room on the 18th floor of the New Orleans Tower. When he arrived, the room included organic dog treats, food and water bowls and disposable waste bags courtesy of Showboat.
Pette explained that she normally has to leave Baci at home when she travels.
"My parents and I alternate. We travel in shifts because we don't want to leave the dog home alone," she said.
But on Thursday, Pette, her parents and Baci all were together at Showboat for an overnight stay. Pette's mother, also named Phyllis, lavished attention on Baci and boasted of his good behavior.
"I'm his grandmom," the elder Phyllis Pette exclaimed. "You can take this dog anywhere. He will just sit on a chair and you won't know that he's in the room, even when you're eating, until you say, ‘Baci, come here.'"
Baci later ventured downstairs for a walk in the hotel lobby, where he met Precious, a 5-year-old female Shih Tzu owned by Melvyn Meszaros and his wife, Tuesday Murphy, of South Amboy, Middlesex County.
"My wife has been coming to Showboat for 20 years, but we could never bring our dog. We would always have to get a baby sitter," Meszaros said. "But now we can all come here. It's like killing two birds with one stone. It's so cool."
The dog-friendly program is known as Pet Stay, which follows a successful run at eight Las Vegas casino hotels operated by Caesars Entertainment Corp., parent company of Showboat.
Showboat is promoting the program through a multimedia advertising campaign, including a large billboard at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway that features a picture of a Yorkshire terrier and the words "Our party is pet friendly."
Five dogs showed up at Showboat on the first day. Pet Stay may be introduced at the three other Caesars Entertainment casinos in Atlantic City - Bally's, Caesars and Harrah's Resort - if the program's trial run at Showboat proves successful, the company said.
Joe Domenico, Showboat's senior vice president and general manager, noted that Pet Stay is a way to reach out to a broader customer base. Atlantic City's casino industry has launched an array of marketing programs - ranging from Pet Stay to food festivals to gay-friendly events - to attract new business in the sluggish economy.
"I think the market has definitely overlooked them," Domenico said of dog lovers. "We want to continue to make Atlantic City a tourist destination."
Domenico added that, so far, there has been "no negative feedback" to the Pet Stay program.
Showboat has set aside nine hotel rooms for canines and their owners in the New Orleans Tower. Dogs are allowed in the hotel and public areas of the property such as the lobby. However, they will be banned from the casino floor, restaurants, bars, spa and retail shops.
Guests must pay an extra $40 per night to have dogs, although Showboat plans to waive the fee for the first two weeks during a promotional period. The casino allows dogs weighing as much as 50 pounds each and a maximum of two per room.
Showboat has created a special "relief area" for pooches in front of the casino by the valet area. A sign reminds owners to "Clean up after your pet!" Waste bags and a trash can are next to the sign.
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