ATLANTIC CITY - Acknowledging that the cowboy concept has gone stale, Bally's Wild Wild West Casino is preparing for a $1.5 million facelift to reinvigorate the aging casino just in time for the bustling summer crowds.
That facelift includes a mechanical bull - which casino officials say is a first for an Atlantic City casino.
Joe Domenico, the casino's senior vice president and general manager, said Bally's will complete an overhaul of the gaming floor by the Fourth of July. New slot machines and table games will be added. Restaurants and bars will be livened up.
The casino's simulcast parlor will be replaced by a new stage featuring live entertainment, including country music bands.
"It will be a heck of a fun place," Domenico said. "This is one prime example of taking something at the center of the Boardwalk, investing some money into it and making it nice."
Domenico envisions the Wild Wild West becoming more of a casual casino that blends country-style nightlife with popular gaming attractions, including the latest generation of slot machines.
"We're extremely excited about this. We want to do something different," he said. "We're re-energizing the gaming experience and adding other attractions that go beyond gaming."
Bally's spent $110 million to build the Wild Wild West annex in 1997. The extravagant re-creation of the Wild West gave Atlantic City its first themed casino. Its whimsical surroundings were a welcome diversion from the drab casino floors prevalent in those days.
However, over the years, the casino has become woefully outdated. The robot-like, animatronic characters at Bally's Wild Wild West Casino have broken down, and there is no one around with the expertise to bring them back to life.
So the grizzled prospector and his trusty old pack mule have stopped panning for gold. The talking vulture perched on a cactus has gone mute. The gunslingers no longer fire their six-shooters and Winchesters.
The rest of the Old West-themed gaming hall seems a bit dead, too.
"It's a little old-fashioned," Harry Gordon, a gambling customer from Toms River, said while gazing out at the landscape of faux canyons, fake waterfalls and pseudo frontier-town stores. "I would like to see improvements."
Bally's parent company Harrah's Entertainment Inc. has toyed with the idea of getting rid of the Wild Wild West to make way for a new hotel tower and other attractions.
For now, the western decor will stay. Customers are supposed to be captivated by a fake 1880s frontier mining town blended with high-tech lighting, sound and entertainment effects.
Popular attractions included the animatronic people and animals that once came to life - talking, singing and gunslinging. As his pack mule brayed, the prospector would speak to customers while he panned for gold at the base of a mountain waterfall. A robotic vulture bobbed his head and talked from his cactus perch. At Lillie Mae's Social Club bordello, two animatronic call girls beckoned customers from a balcony overlooking the casino floor.
Now those characters are still. Domenico said that most of the robots simply wore out over the years and have stopped working. The company that installed them in 1997 has since gone out of business and there is no one available to make repairs, he said.
Eventually, the robots will be removed. "They are probably going to ride off into the sunset," Domenico joked.
One Wild Wild West customer, Leon Logan, of Baltimore, was not amused. Looking at the now-lifeless prospector and mule, Logan urged Bally's to fix the characters.
"When are they finally going to get this working?" Logan asked. "This is what brings people in here. This is a billion-dollar operation, so it doesn't make sense when things start slipping this way."
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