Jim and Elan Carr

Jim and Elan Carr, shown at a Christmas gathering around 2007, met at Bally's Atlantic City, where she ran the salon and cut his children's hair.

Jim Carr never minded working hard — which turned out to be a good thing when he had to get all the dealers ready to start Atlantic City’s casino industry 36 years ago.

Carr had moved east from Lake Tahoe, Nev., to open Resorts International, America’s first legal casino outside Nevada. He was a veteran dealer and casino manager by then, and his job, when he was recruited by Resorts to come to Atlantic City a full year before the 1978 opening, was to train the casino’s first group of dealers.

A formal class portrait shows a small dot next to Jim’s picture on one side — a handy mark for his family, since the picture has hundreds of people squeezed into it. Carr later put the number at 530 dealers hired and trained — out of more than 3,000 who applied. He and a small staff had to interview each one.

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And all those dealers were hardly the only crowds Resorts was drawing in its early days, as some old friends recalled after Carr, a longtime Absecon resident, died last month at 75.

Steve Norton, a Resorts senior vice president back then, remembers people lining up for six and seven blocks on the Boardwalk just for the chance to try a slot machine or a game of blackjack or craps. Resorts had 110 tables — and every dealer had to be a New Jersey resident, which meant they all needed to be freshly trained, and freshly licensed.

Earl Yanase followed Carr to New Jersey from Nevada and was there for that opening “adventure,” as he put it. Part of the excitement was waiting for all those new dealers to get the clearance they needed to start their jobs.

“We were waiting to see who would get licensed that day — and then show up for work that night,” said Yanase, who was also Carr’s next-door neighbor in Absecon for eight years. Those first days were “pretty much 24/7. ... We both worked a lot.”

Yes, as the manager of the country’s busiest casino — Resorts’ first-year win was almost three times as much as the biggest Las Vegas casinos were bringing in, by Norton’s figures — Carr was obviously a busy guy.

Jason Carr, of Mays Landing, is the youngest of Jim’s three children, at 41. Brian Carr lives in Las Vegas and Jennifer Merrill in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Jason said his dad came to New Jersey by himself for that first rush. But even when he settled into his job, Jim worked six days a week — and not just eight-hour days, Jason remembered.

“He used to say that in Lake Tahoe, everyone partied out there — all the bosses, the dealers,” and more, the son said. “He was more inclined to work. ... He’d tell Brian and me that, especially in the 70s, he wanted to work. So if they needed someone to stay late, it was always him.”

And that work ethic helped Jim move up the casino food chain. After a few years as casino manager at Resorts, he was recruited by Bally’s Atlantic City to be senior vice president, running casino operations. Yanase, who moved with him to Bally’s as casino manager, said his new bosses wanted Jim for his management style.

“Trustworthy ... honest, open, with extreme integrity and willing to listen — plus technically knowing the games,” Yanase said, describing his friend’s strengths as a manager.

From Bally’s, Jim moved down the Boardwalk to the old Bally’s Grand. But by 1996, he was getting out of the casino business, which Yanase said was his plan all along as he was working so hard.

“He always told me, ‘I want to retire .... and then I want to do what I want to do,’” Yanase said.

Jim was divorced from his first wife, and he met Dathel DeMaria when they were both dealers at Harveys Casino in Lake Tahoe. She was the mother of Jim’s two younger children, Jennifer and Jason, but she was just 46 when she died of breast cancer in 1989.

Jim was still working at Bally’s then, and his kids got their hair cut in the salon there by a woman they liked named Elan. Near the end of 1990, Jim asked Elan out for a date — although his kids like to say that was their idea. By April 1991, they were married.

And especially after Jim retired, they had fun together. Elan said they got to travel the world — “Tahiti, that was our favorite trip,” although they also enjoyed England and Italy and Florida and the Panama Canal and many more places.

“We were enormously happy,” Elan said.

Jim was a grandfather five times over. He liked to golf, and he was a dedicated woodworker — and an excellent one, said his old neighbor, Yanase.

“He had a good retirement,” his son said. “He did what you’re supposed to do. They went on cruises together, took trips to Mexico, enjoyed the good life.”

But that only came at the end of decades of hard work — and a few years of helping make Atlantic City history.

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