Cocktail servers at Resorts Casino Hotel wander the gambling floors bearing trays of drinks and dressed in tight, backless minidresses with fishnet stockings and high heels.
The tiny dresses are cut high up the girls’ thighs — a fact that seems to catch the attention of men at one blackjack table whose eyes divert to one woman bringing drinks to a fellow gambler. The men continue to glance at her as she returns several times throughout the night, sometimes chatting briefly with customers and smiling.
Yet many of the players remain seemingly unaffected by the servers and their revealing outfits, instead appearing focused on the game at hand.
“I’m not complaining about what they’re wearing. You could put it that way,” John Barton, of New York City, said as he arrived at the casino with plans to play blackjack for the evening. “I’m here to gamble, but do I like the atmosphere? Sure.”
Sexed-up casino themes are nothing new to Atlantic City. While gambling has remained the focus of the resort since the ’70s, different variations of cocktail server uniforms have received attention, from the girls dressed in bunny getup at the former Playboy casino in the 1980s to the flapper costumes unveiled in 2011 as the late casino mogul Dennis Gomes sought to create a sexier, more exciting atmosphere at Atlantic City’s oldest casino.
“It’s really not about sex in the most basic sense of the term. I’d say it’s about creating energy and fun and having dealers that can engage people,” said Israel Posner, a casino analyst at Richard Stockton College. “A pretty girl can certainly do that for a bunch of guys, but I don’t think that’s what it’s about. At a great table, people are energized and excited. That’s what it’s about.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped casinos from adopting edgier themes, many based on concepts from Las Vegas. Some would say those concepts have come with a price in the form of lawsuits filed against the properties.
Nearly 40 servers have a lawsuit against Resorts, claiming they were fired to make way for younger women who would fit better into the Roaring ’20s costumes adopted by the casino. Another seven women have a lawsuit against Golden Nugget Atlantic City, alleging that because of their appearances, the casino kept them from working in the “party pits,” another “sex sells” concept adopted from Las Vegas using smaller rooms with scantily clad women that are part gambling den, part nightclub.
Twenty-three women have an outstanding lawsuit in state Superior Court alleging that Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa created a culture of harassment for its “Borgata Babes,” cocktail servers dressed in cleavage-revealing bustiers and high heels. The women in that claim dispute a weight policy that prohibits the servers from gaining more than 7 percent of their body weight after they’re hired.
The lawsuits are not a phenomenon tied solely to Atlantic City. Similar cases can be found against casinos in Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
Ann McGinley, a professor at the University of Nevada’s William S. Boyd School of Law, said there’s no doubt that an emphasis on partying in a hip, young atmosphere in Las Vegas has led to increasingly skimpier costumes over the years, as well as a number of lawsuits for the casinos. The issues found in Las Vegas could be similar to those found at other gambling destinations, McGinley said in a study published earlier this year.
In Las Vegas, she said, achieving profit in casinos means walking a line between “a bit naughty and downright raunchy.”
“It’s not only the casino floors … where hypersexualization appears and is used as a marketing tool. Casinos have recently opened night clubs, “European” topless pools and ultra lounges,” McGinley said in the paper. “All of this hyper-sexualization is designed to improve the casinos’ bottom line, and to some extent it appears to have worked.”
Still, Posner said, what appears in Atlantic City is much tamer than the sexualized concepts of Las Vegas. Resorts’ Gomes was one of the first to push the envelope with sex, opening the first gay nightclub in a casino and rebranding the operation using the sexier flapper-themed cocktail waitress costumes.
Even Revel’s Royal Jelly, a burlesque club where girls perform choreographed stripteases — but are not allowed to be topless — is tame by Las Vegas standards, Posner said.
“I’ve never seen sex as a dominant story here,” he said. “The image of Atlantic City from 1978 until now is that people came here to gamble. It got to a point where people said, ‘If I don’t gamble, why would I come to Atlantic City?’”
Regardless of the dress inside the casinos, recently there’s been a marked change in the way Atlantic City is promoted, one that shifts the focus away from the idea that sex sells and instead focuses on the more comprehensive range of amenities the city offers — from dining and shopping to nightlife and art, thanks to new promotions from the Atlantic City Alliance, the casino-funded, nonprofit marketing group created by state legislation.
Last year, the alliance adopted “Do AC” as the resort’s slogan, allowing the “Always Turned On” tag line used for more than eight years to fall by the wayside.
“The obvious thing that comes to mind is that the ‘Always Turned On’ slogan was obviously a double entendre designed for that purpose,” Posner said. “Turned on could mean a whole lot of things depending on perceptions and interests. The ‘Do AC’ campaign is a very different campaign that talks about Atlantic City as a place where you can do anything and everything.”
Jeff Guaracino, a spokesman for the alliance, said the alliance intended to do something unexpected with the switch to the “Do AC” campaign.
While the campaign features attractive people in the advertisements, it’s certainly not a campaign that focuses only on sex appeal, he said.
“We are trying to achieve a reappraisal in what people think of Atlantic City,” he said. “There are good-looking people in our ads. It’s definitely not a downscale Atlantic City. It’s a premium travel experience with terrific amenities. We’re not focusing on cocktail servers or any group inside a specific casino. It’s the experience as a whole.”
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