A group of Bally's Atlantic City casino employees lined the pavement in front of the casino Nov. 12, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a special guest of honor.
After a few minutes of waiting, a gray stretch limousine came into focus and the crowd began to cheer, whistle and wave pom-poms and plastic clappers in the air.
Out of the limousine came 85-year-old George Kerns, of Cape May Court House, accompanied by his son, Rick Kerns, and friend Neal Sheeskin, both also of Cape May Court House.
Kerns isn't a celebrity or a high roller. In fact, Nov. 12 was the first time in his life he had been in a limousine, he said. Rather, Kerns is a dedicated Bally's Atlantic City casino patron who has been coming to the casino to gamble about once per week since its inception 33 years ago. As a thank you, his family and the casino set up this surprise for his 85th birthday.
Senior Vice President and General Manager for Bally's and Showboat Atlantic City Kevin Ortzman said after learning of Kerns' dedication to the casino he and his staff were eager to do something special for him. The original plan was to send a limousine to transport Kerns and his guests to and from the casino Nov. 5, the day after his birthday. But Hurricane Sandy postponed the celebration.
To make up for the postponement the casino still sent a limousine on the morning of Nov. 12, a week later, but also provided the group with a free dinner at a restaurant of their choice in the casino, a birthday cake and an overnight stay in one of Bally's suites overlooking the ocean.
"To see a spry 85-year-old man like George loving life is inspiring," Ortzman said. "All he wanted to do for his birthday is to have breakfast with his friends down in Cape May Court House and then come to Bally's."
Bally's Atlantic City opened in 1979, long before many of the other casinos that now make up the Atlantic City skyline. These days, Kerns comes to play his favorite John Wayne slot machines, he said, but in his earlier days, he and his wife, now deceased, also came to Bally's to celebrate many of their special occasions, such as wedding anniversaries and birthdays.
Rick Kerns, who usually is his father's chauffeur back and forth from the casino, said the special treatment meant a lot to both of them.
"I wanted to take him on a cruise for his birthday but he said, 'No, no cruise. Just take me to Bally's,'" Rick said.
Sitting on a bench inside the casino on the ground floor waiting to take the escalator to the casino floor, George said he was thrilled by the attention. He said, in his opinion, Bally's Atlantic City is the best casino in the city.
"I've (gone) to all of them, and you can't beat this one," he said.
When asked if he was looking forward to staying the night at Bally's, which was also a first for him, George said, "Oh yeah, I'll be on the casino floor today, tonight and tomorrow."
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