Casino revenue may not be where it was a decade ago, but casinos and their employees continue to contribute to their communities, through direct donations, in-kind services and volunteer efforts.
And while participation has dropped, representatives of area groups said they still rely on the casinos to help support their causes.
"It would be very tough to operate without them," said Mekos Denson, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City.
Denson said pretty much every casino in the city has helped them, sponsoring their golf tournament and club programs. Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa sponsors the Champions of Youth program that mentors promising high school students and helping them prepare for college.
Caesar's Entertainment has provided funding for Boys and Girls Club programs, and employees have helped the club as part of their Day of Caring program.
Golden Boy Promotions, Oscar De La Hoya and Caesars donated almost $45,000 from a fight in November to help the club pay for renovations to one of its buildings after Hurricane Sandy.
Marge Barham, executive director of the Community FoodBank of South Jersey, in Egg Harbor Township, said casinos have donated leftover food and holiday turkeys. She said Caesars and Borgata have provided in-kind services by donating space for fundraising events, and the Harrah's Heroes - employees of Harrah's Resort, recently spent time volunteering at the food bank.
Casinos tend to take somewhat of a low profile in their charitable giving.
Denson said some of the casinos prefer not to be identified as event sponsors, but the Boys and Girls Club still greatly appreciates their help.
"We keep a lot of it off the radar," said Courtney Birmingham, spokesman for Resorts Casino Hotel , which has worked with the food bank and last month made and delivered lunch to students at Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Atlantic City, which had severe damage to its kitchen as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
"It is important for us to give back," Birmingham said. She said employees themselves often make suggestions, and the lunch idea came from an employee whose child attends the school.
Resorts employees Guy Anselmo, Kathy Albright and Ruben Espinal organized the preparation and delivery of the lunch, Birmingham said.
Casinos and Local 54, the union representing casino workers, helped many of its local employees after Hurricane Sandy, providing rooms at their hotels and holding fundraisers to help them recover. Used furniture from an unnamed casino was donated to Atlantic City families through the school district.
School superintendent Donna Haye said the casinos used to be able to do more, but will still help individual schools in their neighborhoods.
Tropicana Casino and Resort has a relationship with the Texas Avenue School, and recently donated turkeys for school food baskets as well as to the food bank and Salvation Army.
Tropicana spokeswoman Diane Spiers said contributing to the community is viewed as part of their duty as a local business, and they do not seek credit for it. She said the resort hosted a holiday charity show and scheduled private showings of its free holiday laser light show for charitable groups to accommodate their schedules.
Spokesman for area charitable groups said they have had to be more creative in their fundraising as both private and public support dwindled during the recession.
"We are trying to diversify our funding," Denson said.
But the casinos remain crucial for some.
For the last 12 years the MAPS Foundation of South Jersey Inc. has relied on holiday performances at a casino to raise money to help residents with multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Casinos donated the space and school choirs and local dance schools performed.
Rose Silverman, of Margate, a MAPS founder, said they almost didn't have a Sounds of the Season show at all this year, but Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic helped them get into the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel. The site gave them a large showroom, which Silverman said they filled with family, friends and guests of the 38 school choirs and 26 dance studios that participated during December.
"We used to go to different casinos each year," she said. "It's great when the groups can perform in a lobby because the guests see them, and might make a donation, but the showroom gave us a large venue."
The shows are free, but guests are asked to make a donation. Not everyone does, and donations fluctuate with casino attendance. Silverman estimates they raised between $7,000 and $8,000 this year, compared with at least $10,000 in previous years.
MAPS has already reduced its client base and modified eligibility income limits and currently helps about 90 area residents with medical expenses.
Silverman said some of the youth groups will also do a separate fund-raising event to raise money for MAPS, but they have relied on the casinos for their big annual event, and she is already worried about next year. The group has adjusted its expectations to fit the local economy. but also hope the casinos see the performances as a way to bring in customers to the shops, restaurants and casino.
"We never ask the casinos for money, though some used to make a donation in the past," she said.
Silverman said casinos also used to provide the young performers lunch, but all she really needs is a venue and a sound technician.
"We know the economy is not good," she said. "But our reliance on this event is a great one."
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