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Charles J. Olson  

Cape May County Technical School’s Josh Wright reacts after scoring his 2,000th career point during Wednesday’s game against Absegami on January 9, 2019. Photo/Charles J. Olson

Ocean Resort Casino facing legal, financial troubles

ATLANTIC CITY — There are signs of trouble at Ocean Resort Casino, the $2.4 billion Boardwalk megaresort heralded as being a key part of the seaside gaming resort’s comeback.

The casino, which opened June 27, has struggled to gain a significant market share among Atlantic City’s nine properties, and its parent company is facing liens from construction workers who claim they have not been paid. Meanwhile, owner Bruce Deifik was sued in December for a multimillion-dollar breach of contract by the casino’s former nightclub manger, who claimed Deifik is trying to sell the property.

Deifik said in the fall that all is well with Ocean Resort. But the normally talkative Colorado-based real estate investor who purchased the former Revel Casino Hotel for $229 million in January 2018 has not talked since about the casino’s finances.

On Wednesday morning, there were more warning signs when, at the request of Ocean Resort, an application for temporary approval of a senior executive was pulled from the Casino Control Commission’s agenda. A spokesperson for the casino declined to comment on the reason. The commission’s chairman, James Plousis, said they were unaware of any issues at Ocean and no documentation had been provided to the industry regulatory body stating otherwise.

PHOTOS: Ocean Resort Casino's Grand Opening

Deifik also canceled a Thursday morning appearance at a casino executive leadership forum hosted by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.

Since the first full month of reported gaming revenue in July through November, Ocean Resort’s casino win has been at or near the bottom of the market. In that time, Ocean’s total gaming revenue has been just shy of $84 million, with only one month, August, topping the $20 million mark.

Based on total revenue forecasts submitted to state gaming regulators prior to licensing in June, Ocean Resort’s executives estimated that in its first fiscal year the property would net $384.6 million, second only to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. So far, the results have lagged those projections, with Ocean reporting $78 million in net revenue during the summer.

To secure financing for the purchase of Ocean, two bridge loans were obtained by Deifik and various holding entities: $110 million from JPMorgan Chase Bank and $122.5 million from Luxor Capital Group, a New York-based hedge fund.

On June 4, a new term loan from JPMorgan for $175 million was completed and the initial $110 million borrowed was repaid. Records from gaming regulators state that the Deifik Family Partnership, a limited liability limited partnership with two general partners — Deifik and his wife, Nancy — were the only guarantors of the new term loan from the bank.

In December, Joseph Morrisey, the former nightclub manager at HQ2, filed a $10 million lawsuit against Deifik, claiming he was pushed out of a signed agreement after helping secure millions in financing for the casino prior to its public opening.

Deifik has said Morrissey is “not credible,” and that he had no intention of selling.

Morrisey named Deifik, Ocean Resort and JPMorgan as defendants in the suit, which was filed in a New York court.

Further compounding the casino’s issues are several liens filed with the Atlantic County Clerk’s Office against the property by construction firms. At least one lien, filed by Atlantic City-based Calvi Electric, was discharged. But a lien filed by Eastern Sign Tech claims it is still owed more than $579,000, according to county records.

Deifik had experience in the casino industry before coming to Atlantic City. He is an investor in three off-Strip properties in Las Vegas operated by Lucky Silver: Silver Nugget Casino, Lucky Club Casino and Hotel and the Golden Tiki. Additionally, Deifik worked for the Greenspun Corp., a Nevada-based company that owns newspapers, websites and other media. He also previously owned a portion of the Professional Fighters League, formally known as the World Series of Fighting.

Ocean Resort opened to the public on the same day as Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. The former Revel was only open for two years after twice declaring bankruptcy due to crippling debt. The property was purchased in 2015 by Florida-based real estate developer Glenn Straub, who paid $82 million for the shuttered casino hotel.

Miss New Jersey competition leaving Ocean City

ATLANTIC CITY — While the future home of the Miss America Competition remains unclear, the Miss New Jersey pageant on Wednesday announced it is moving to the resort.

Miss New Jersey Education Foundation Executive Director David Holtzman said during a news conference the 2019 and 2020 Miss New Jersey competitions would be held at Resorts Casino Hotel’s Superstar Theater.

The announcement marks the first major change to the state pageant under Holtzman, who was named executive director of the education foundation in December when Miss New Jersey’s licensing was restored by the Miss America Organization.

Miss New Jersey had previously been held at the Ocean City Music Pier for 22 years. Ocean City officials did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

“We’ve kind of outgrown that facility,” Holtzman said of the Music Pier. “We’ve sold out over the last few years. And in my heart, we wanted to bring it to Atlantic City.”

Pageant week will start June 9, with Miss New Jersey 2019 crowned June 15.

This year’s pageant will follow the new swimsuit-less Miss America 2.0 format, focusing instead on on-stage interviews with contestants.

The Superstar Theater has about 1,350 seats and multiple dressing rooms for the pageant’s 27 to 28 contestants, Holtzman said.

“It’s just a whole other level for us,” said Holtzman. “When you see who has been in those dressing rooms — it’s unreal.”

Autographed posters and head shots from 40 years of performers hang on the walls of the theater’s backstage areas, while Frank Sinatra’s concrete handprints are staged under glass outside it.

“I am excited for what’s to come within the Miss New Jersey organization,” said Miss New Jersey 2018 Jaime Gialloreto. “It’s all up from here.”

The state pageant began in 1933 crowning one woman to represent New Jersey in the Miss America pageant held in September at Boardwalk Hall.

Miss New Jersey has also been held in Wildwood and Cherry Hill.

The fate of the state pageant was in doubt just a few weeks ago, as the Miss America Organization in December had revoked the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation’s license. It renewed the license Dec. 26, naming Holtzman to the directorship in the process.

According to a Miss New Jersey board member, no specific reason was given as to why the license had been revoked.

The MAO states in the state organization agreement it has the right to terminate the licensing contract with or without reason.

In June, 22 state executive directors, including then-Miss New Jersey Director Sally Johnston, signed a “vote of no confidence” online letter that called for the immediate resignations of MAO board Chairwoman Gretchen Carlson, CEO Regina Hopper and the entire Miss America Board of Trustees.

The location of this year’s Miss America Competition is still unannounced.

Holtzman said Wednesday he did not know the status of the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City.

“I’m optimistic. I’ll try to do whatever I can for them, but right now I’m not privy to anything different than you know,” said Holtzman.

GALLERY: Miss NJ contestants arrive in Ocean City

In September, the MAO sent the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority a request for proposal to host the 99th and 100th anniversary pageants. Details of the pageant’s costs and requirements include $2.5 million to $4.9 million for the pageant’s production, $325,000 for hotel accommodations, security and transportation, complimentary or discounted room rates for contestants, family members and staff, and a presidential suite for Carlson.

CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty said the authority could not finance the pageant as it had for the past six years but does hope Miss America can find another sponsor that will keep the pageant in its hometown.

Krishna / Krishna Mathias / Press illustration 

{standaloneHead}Resorts Miss New Jersey{/standaloneHead}

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Since the first full month of reported gaming revenue in July through November, Ocean Resort’s casino win has been at or near the bottom of the market.

Two Ocean County men dead after commercial crabbing vessel capsizes off Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. — Two Ocean County residents were among the three men who died Tuesday as their commercial crabbing boat capsized in rough waters off Oregon.

The Coast Guard said the vessel, the Mary B. II, overturned about 10 p.m. Tuesday as it crossed Yaquina Bay bar in Newport, Oregon. The bar is one of the most notorious off the Oregon coast. Authorities said crews faced 12- to 14-foot waves as they tried to rescue the fishermen.

James Lacey, 48, of South Toms River, was pulled from the ocean by helicopter and flown to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Stephen Biernacki, 50, of Barnegat Township, was the boat’s skipper. His body was found on the hull of the boat after it, too, washed up on a jetty.

The body of a third man, Joshua Porter, 50, of Toledo, Oregon, washed up on a beach early Wednesday.

Barnegat Light Mayor Kirk O. Larson, whose mother, Marion Oliver Larson, owns Viking Village commercial fishing dock, knew both Ocean County men but was unaware of their deaths when contacted late Wednesday afternoon.

“Jim Lacey used to work for me for years and years and years. That’s horrible. He worked for me quite a few years ago,” Larson said. “For any fisherman, it’s a horrible thing to hear.”

Lacey was always nice to him and had bumped around from dock to dock to dock forever, Larson said.

“Jim Lacey has fished with everybody,” Larson said.

Biernacki worked for Larson’s mother for years, said Larson, who is Viking Village’s chairman of the board.

“Actually, he ran a boat up on the beach in North Beach about 20 years ago,” said Larson, chuckling as he remembered the incident.

Larson said he had not seen Biernacki in a while and was not close with either man.

Capt. Eddie Yates, president of the United Boatmen of New Jersey, has been fishing in Barnegat Light for 41 years. He knew Lacey and Biernacki were both from the Ocean County area, but he was unaware of their deaths.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Yates said

Yates did not know they were working on the Oregon coast.

“He (Biernacki) used to work for me part time many years ago,” said Yates, adding he knew Lacey from being around town. “I haven’t seen Steve around for a couple of years. Commercial fishermen jump from boat to boat and town to town.”

The tragedy was nothing new for Newport, a working fishing port about 130 miles southwest of Portland on Oregon’s central coast. The small town hosts a granite memorial at Yaquina Bay etched with more than 100 names of local fishermen lost at sea over the past century and shared tragedies are woven into the fabric of the community.

“It happens frequently enough that we actually have funds that help families during this time. We fundraise all year long, and we try to help them as much as we can,” said Taunette Dixon, president of the nonprofit Newport Fishermen’s Wives, which supports families who have lost a breadwinner to the waves.

It’s so treacherous that the dangers of crossing it with a fully loaded crab boat were the premise of a spin-off of “The Deadliest Catch,” a reality TV show about commercial fishermen that aired on the Discovery channel.

“The fishermen and their families know all too well, unfortunately, that that danger is real. They accept the challenge because they love what they do,” said Tim Novotny, spokesman for the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. “It’s part of who they are and what they do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Arena Football League franchise headed to Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Barring an unexpected development, a professional football franchise is coming to the city this spring.

Officials have tentatively scheduled a news conference for Jan. 22 at a site to be determined to announce that the Arena Football League will place an expansion franchise at Boardwalk Hall that will begin its inaugural season in April.

“To put it in football parlance, we’ve driven 99 yards and we’re first-and-goal from the 1-yard line,” Ron Jaworski, chairman of the AFL’s executive committee, said late Wednesday in a phone interview. “It’s going to happen, and I’m absolutely thrilled. The people of Atlantic City and South Jersey deserve it.

“I can’t say enough about the overwhelming support we’ve received from the City, the CRDA (Casino Reinvestment Development Authority), the casino industry and the people. Everyone’s been behind this 100 percent.”

Jaworski, a former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback who owns Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Galloway Township, is also a majority owner of the Arena League’s Philadelphia Soul. He staged an Arena League game at Boardwalk Hall in May 2015, when an announced crowd of 6,514 watched the Soul post a 51-43 victory over the now-defunct Las Vegas Outlaws in the short-lived DraftKings Boardwalk Bowl game.

Jaworski, 67, was also responsible for initially bringing the Philadelphia-based Maxwell Football Club to Atlantic City. It will hold its banquet in town for the 16th straight year March 8 at Tropicana Atlantic City.

“This is great news,” City Council President Marty Small said Wednesday in a phone interview. “Atlantic City is always looking for ways to appeal to residents and visitors with new and different amenities, and this definitely fits. I’m for anything that will bring family-oriented entertainment here.”

Sports betting is one of the reasons Atlantic City was selected for an expansion franchise. Seven casinos now have sports books on their properties. DraftKings, which has a partnership with the Arena League, operates one at Resorts Casino Hotel. It also launched the state’s first online and mobile betting platforms Aug. 1.

Fans are expected to be able to bet on games and even in-game action at Boardwalk Hall.

“It’s not hard to imagine in the near future fans on their devices analyzing data, placing bets and communicating with each other in real time during games,” Ted Leonsis, owner of the AFL’s Baltimore Brigade and Washington Valor, wrote on his blog in August. “Legalized sports betting will only bring fans closer to the game, ramping up the action in each minute and creating more intensity.”

Atlantic City will be the fifth active franchise in the Arena League, joining the Soul, Brigade, Valor and Albany (New York) Empire. One franchise, the Cleveland Gladiators, is on hiatus while its arena undergoes renovations. Another, the Tampa Bay Storm, has folded.

Other teams are expected to be added in the coming weeks and years.

The Arena League team in Atlantic City — the name of the team will be chosen by fans in a contest — will try to succeed in a market where other professional sports teams have failed. It will be the fifth professional sports franchise to come to Atlantic City in the past 20 years. None of the previous four are still here.

The Surf played from 1998-2008 in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (1998-2006) and Can-Am League (2007-08). It won the inaugural Atlantic League championship in 1998 and hosted the league’s All-Star game at the former Sandcastle that year. It folded before the 2009 season.

The Boardwalk Bullies of the East Coast Hockey League played at Boardwalk Hall for five seasons (2001-05), but despite winning the Kelly Cup in 2003 failed to draw enough fans to stay. The franchise relocated to Stockton, California.

The Seagulls won three titles in the now defunct United States Basketball League during its six-year tenure (1996-2001) while playing at Atlantic City High School, Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom and finally at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing. In 2001, it became the first USBL team to go winless (0-28) in a season and disbanded.

There was even an indoor football team in town 14 years ago. In 2004, the Atlantic City Cardsharks of the old National Indoor Football League played at Boardwalk Hall.

Small, a former standout basketball player for Atlantic City High School and Stockton University, was a member of the Seagulls team that won the USBL title in 1998.

“Being with the Seagulls, I’m well aware of the struggles that come with trying to make it as a professional team in the city,” Small said. “I’m hoping the Arena League team can make it.”