ATLANTIC CITY -- And then there were 11. Atlantic Club Casino Hotel quietly shut its doors at midnight today amid little fanfare. Only a small crowd of loyal patrons remained who had counted down the casino's final moment.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Atlantic Club is officially closed," one employee said over a loudspeaker as long-time employees began hugging.
Bars had shut down hours earlier, and music had been turned off. In the hours leading up the closing, the casino shut down table games on the outer edges of the gaming floor, forcing the bits of remaining action toward the center of the room.
New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Executive Director David Rebuck called it a sad event. He estimated it would take about six hours to secure the remaining chips and money at the property and shut down machines. Gaming equipment will be removed from the property beginning Wednesday, he said.
Patrons had steadily flowed through Atlantic Club's doors over the weekend, saying goodbye to their favorite employees and reminiscing about the history of the 33-year-old casino as it approached its final hours.
Its closing reduces the tally of Atlantic City casinos to 11 and leaves 1,600 employees jobless.
“Just to give up on this place when it had started to turn a corner seems to me to be a dangerous precedent to set in this city,” said David Coover, a 40-year-old Ventnor resident. “This is a landmark. What does it say when people come into Atlantic City and the first thing they see is a dark, empty building?”
The Atlantic Club was neither dark nor empty in its final days. On Saturday night, the casino hosted a wedding receiption. A bride and her bridal party paraded through a hallway with a champagne bottle in hand. Lines to get the last of the baked goods from one coffee shop stretched more than 30 people long at points as loyal customers scrambled to use up hundreds of dollars in comps.
By late Sunday morning, employees at Cappuccino’s Coffee & Espresso Bar were calling out the list of items that were sold out. Some patrons began scooping up entire cheesecakes usually sold only by the slice. A full cake went for $52.50.
Sherry Rosetti, of Long Branch, Monmouth County, was among those walking away with bags of baked goods.
“I had over $107 in comps left. Now I’ve got cheesecake, I’ve got fruit salads, I’ve got danishes,” Rosetti said. “I’ve been coming here since this was the Golden Nugget. I was 18, and that was the legal gambling age. That’s a lot of years built up.”
By Saturday night, some casino eateries were running out of essentials. The buffet had run out of cream for coffee, and bread was hard to come by, but patrons weren’t complaining.
Atlantic City residents Harriann Bernstein and Sybil Victor were among the locals supporting the staff. The pair said they visited the casino every night over the past week wearing homemade buttons that read, “Atlantic Club, we (love) you, #1 employees.”
“The little bit we could do was come here and eat and purposely overtip them, and just tell them we were empathizing with them,” Bernstein said.
The sale of the property — for $23.4 million to Tropicana Entertainment Inc. and Caesars Entertainment Corp. — will leave hundreds out of work in the city’s slower winter season. Caesars, which will own the building, does not plan to operate it.
“Everything here has felt like a family. The staff here has been overly nice. They couldn’t do enough for you,” Victor said.
As restaurants closed for nearly the last time Saturday night and guests checked out of the hotel Sunday morning, employees were teary-eyed, and customers stopped to take photos with the staff.
“I can’t turn around because I’m going to cry if I do,” one woman said to an employee as she checked out of the hotel.
Betty Woodall would have liked to be one of the employees working on the casino’s final night, but a health issue has kept the 76-year-old on medical leave from her job as a server. Still, that didn’t stop her from coming to the casino Saturday night to reminisce with her friends about her 32-year career at the property.
There since nearly the first day, Woodall worked at the casino since its birth as the Golden Nugget, when it attracted top-notch performers such as Frank Sinatra.
“I so enjoyed coming to work here every day. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it was closing,” Woodall said. “Each month, I just kept hoping I could get back to work. I kept that hope up every day until we got the news.”
Customers and employees alike expressed frustration at the casino’s closing, criticizing the state for supporting Revel Casino-Hotel while remaining uninvolved in the Atlantic Club’s closing.
In 2011, the state announced $261 million in state tax reimbursements over 20 years for the then-half finished Revel, which some predicted would lead to the cannibalization of other Atlantic City casinos. State officials have now called Atlantic Club’s closing inevitable, saying it was an older, tired property.
“It doesn’t seem right. Think of what $200 million could have done for the Atlantic Club and the jobs here,” Bernstein said.
Meanwhile, others simply looking for a souvenir of the casino found they were out of luck. The gift shop sold out of Atlantic Club memorabilia, and a sign hung in front of the emptied store that read, “Closed. It has been our pleasure to serve you all these years.”
Others found more creative ways to take a piece of the Atlantic Club home with them. One couple lifted a small tree out of a landscaped area in the skybridge and later came back for the planter. Another man walked out of the casino Saturday night carrying a bar stool.
The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement oversaw the closing. The division’s investigative staff and members of the New Jersey State Police Casino Gaming Unit were on site to oversee the shutdown of gambling equipment, cage and accounting operations, alcoholic beverage operations, security and surveillance staffing, DGE spokeswoman Lisa Spengler said.
Patrons have until the end of the day Monday to cash in Atlantic Club vouchers. After Monday, the vouchers expire, the casino stated in materials on the closing.
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