ATLANTIC CITY — After more than 40 years of legalized gambling, casinos know what their most loyal visitors desire when they come to the resort to ring in the new year.
“Every property does well on Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. That’s why there are ballroom parties, clubs, whatever you want,” said Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey.
The customer base wants to dance and party, either in ballrooms or clubs or to the live music of nationally known acts.
The Trammps, Kool & The Gang and KC & The Sunshine Band, all longtime casino standbys, are among the headliners that have been booked for this New Year’s Eve.
The guests want to eat a great meal and drink good liquor.
New Year’s Eve menus and drink specials will be available at the restaurants and bars.
They want to spend a few bucks gambling.
The casinos have created sweepstakes and special gaming promotions just for New Year’s Eve.
What the resort is not offering is a new happening to entice someone who has never experienced New Year’s Eve in the city to give it a try, or an event in which multiple casinos, or the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, create a larger affair than what any one casino can do.
An anticipated, but never booked, New Year’s Eve concert in 2016 at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, was canceled.
A nationally televised New Year’s Eve act in Atlantic City was promised in a $12.5 million deal that the CRDA made with dick clark productions and the Miss America Organization that was supposed to keep the pageant in the city through this year.
There was a short period of time when at least two casinos worked together to create an event that was used to promote the city.
From 1991 to 1995, “Merv Griffin’s New Year’s Eve Special,” a live hourlong, syndicated musical program at Resorts Casino Hotel, was aired in 87% to 89% of the national television market.
For multiple years, other casinos contributed talent that appeared on the show. As 1993 turned into 1994, the program featured Tony Bennett and the late Ray Charles and the late Donna Summer, who was headlining at the now-defunct Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.
In the 1990s, Callender was at Resorts and remembers Griffin’s TV show, but the market was different then as Atlantic City casinos now have to compete against those in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.
Besides being the head of the casino association, Callender serves as the senior vice president of Eastern Regional Operations, Eldorado Resorts, Inc., which includes operational responsibility for Tropicana Casino and Resort.
Tropicana hosts a 9 p.m. fireworks spectacular on the Boardwalk, which Callender said 5,000 people know about and show up for, whether they spend the rest of their New Year’s Eve at his casino or not.
“We all get along, and we are competitors,” said Callender about the other resort casinos.
Jon Henderson, founder and executive producer of Good Time Tricycle Productions, based in Linwood, knows a great deal about the casinos because he spent 22 years working in the industry.
The difficulty of doing anything beyond what the casinos’ schedule on New Year’s Eve is all the hotel rooms are booked, and there is no extra space to do anything in, said Henderson, whose company developed the Atlantic City Tattoo Expo and The AC Beer and Music Festival, among other events.
“New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest paydays for the acts, anywhere from 15% to 30% more than what they are paid normally,” said Henderson, who added the resort doesn’t have enough retail hotel rooms to accommodate a separate event on top of what the casinos are doing.
Steve Gietka, vice president of entertainment for the Trump properties from late 1999 through late 2011, said New Year’s Eve was really almost considered a gift to the player base that involved throwing them a party.
“The mentality was we will not make money on New Year’s Eve,” said Gietka, the head of SMG Entertainment, a Hammonton-based consulting company and show producer.
Gietka remembers the dance clubs Casbah and Xanadu doing incredible retail business on New Year’s Eve inside the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
That tradition is being kept alive by the DJs who have been booked for New Year’s Eve into such clubs as Premier at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, The Pool After Dark at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City and HQ Nightclub at the Ocean Casino Resort Atlantic City.
In recent years, there was one time when the CRDA, Live Nation Entertainment and Spectra, which manages the 14,770-person capacity Boardwalk Hall, teamed up to host a New Year’s event.
Comedian and actor Kevin Hart was booked into Boardwalk Hall’s arena on Dec. 31, 2015 on his “WHAT NOW?” tour.
Tropicana bought some tickets to Hart’s performance. Callender said he heard feedback from the players at his casino, who attended the show, that they enjoyed it.
“We have enough to do at our property, but whatever they (CRDA, Live Nation or Boardwalk Hall) bring, I would be in favor of,” Callender said.