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Backlash hits Miss America over swimsuit controversy

In 1951, Yolande Betbeze Fox roiled the Miss America Organization when, after winning the pageant, she refused to model a new line of bathing suits made by one of the organization’s chief sponsors, famously saying, ‘I’m a singer, not a pinup.’

The refusal led to the creation of the rival Miss USA pageant.

Nearly seven decades later, the swimsuit has once again thrown the organization into controversy, this time with traditionalists arguing the recent removal of the swimsuit competition, a staple of the pageant since its founding, was made too quickly and unilaterally by the organizations leaders.

On Monday, the organization’s CEO, Gretchen Carlson, appeared on “Good Morning America” to defend the “Miss America 2.0” initiative that eliminated the swimsuit competition. Carlson was countering a petition signed by 22 representatives of state pageants, including New Jersey, that called for the new leadership of the organization to resign, citing a lack of transparency and adherence to best practices.

“Swimsuit has been a part of Miss America since it started in 1921, and many of the volunteers and the state executive directors have been around a long time and it’s tradition,” Carlson said. “But at the same time, this board unanimously decided that we needed to move this program forward.”

The decision to eliminate the swimsuit competition followed a “spirited discussion” between board of trustees members, Carlson said.

But now, the move has become the subject of bitter dispute and infighting for Carlson, who took over promising reform and change after a scandal in December around former CEO Sam Haskell’s and other members’ lewd emails.

Critics of Carlson have said they feel betrayed by how she led the board to that point.

Suzette Charles, a 1984 Miss America winner as Miss New Jersey, said Carlson told about 40 former Miss Americas in a conference call she felt the sponsors and production companies would require the organization to remove the swimsuit competition.

But the sponsors’ objections were never confirmed, Charles, the current Atlantic City liaison for the board of trustees, told The Press of Atlantic City.

“Things started to unravel” when it appeared that changing the competition was not an ABC requirement, Charles said.

Michael Callahan, a Miss America historian and author of the book “The Night She Won Miss America,” said the board of trustees made a big mistake when they quickly made the decision to end the swimsuit competition.

“There was a lack of recognition (among the leadership) that the states run the whole thing. They provide the talent,” Callahan said. “The state organizations could have come around to the idea of changing the swimsuit competition, but the rug was pulled out from underneath, and this was unilaterally decided for them.”

Former contestants and title-holders also took to social media to criticize Carlson and other new leaders, as well as the elimination of the swimsuit competition.

“Ever since the MAO announcement of the elimination of the swimsuit competition, I have been truly scared for the future of our beloved organization,” Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell said in a Facebook post. “We have been lied to about the swimsuit competition, completely neglected in the decision-making process, and ignored when we spoke our minds about the enormous changes.”

Atlantic City historian Vicki Gold Levi, who was a Miss America judge in the 1990s, said she was sad to see another controversy ravage the Atlantic City staple.

“I think this is a conflict between the Me Too movement and tradition,” she said. “I don’t like to see contention amongst the ranks, and at the end of the day they are going to need to find a compromise.”

The board also decided to change the evening wear competition, making it optional, which further upset many state organizations.

“Gretchen was voted in, and in the last seven or eight or nine months, there has been a lot of funny business,” Charles said. “There’s been a lot of dismay with Gretchen’s leadership. We thought she would regard this program with reverence and keep this tradition alive.”

Callahan said another part of the problem is that the board eliminated the swimsuit competition and changed the evening wear competition without fully explaining what is going to replace them.

“No one has an understanding of what this is going to look like, which is a problem because the (state organizations) still have swimsuit and evening wear as part of their competitions,” Callahan said. “On top of that, you’re taking out a third of what people watch it for. They are not going to gain any viewers by eliminating the swimsuit competition.”

Staff Writers Lauren Carroll and Maxwell Reil contributed to this report.

ERIN GRUGAN / Staff Photographer  

Juhani ‘Kantoraketti’ Toivonen plays for PENTA Sports during the semifinal round of the Rainbow Six Siege Pro League event in May at Harrah’s Resort. Caesars Atlantic City hosted the city’s first esports event in 2017.

Atlantic City poised to be East Coast leader for esports, online gaming

ATLANTIC CITY — A U.K.-based net-work solutions and data center provider wants to invest $5 million to build a nearly 6,000- square-foot secured server in the Convention Center, which could bolster efforts for the resort to become a regional hub for competitive online gaming.

A deal between the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and Continent 8 to lease underutilized space in the Atlantic City Convention Center for the construction and operation of an international data center is close to being finalized, according to representatives with both entities.

The data center would serve to increase bandwidth capacity and security for web-based services throughout the city and, potentially, the greater South Jersey region.

With ample convention, arena and theater space throughout the city and the incoming technological upgrades, Atlantic City has an opportunity to be at the forefront of expanding esports and competitive online gaming on the East Coast, said Kevin Ortzman, regional president for Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s Atlantic City properties and a CRDA board member.

“Atlantic City has the capacity to be able to bring in and really go after that specific business segment,” Ortzman said.

Esports is anticipated to generate nearly $906 million in revenue worldwide in 2018, a figure that is up from the $493 million in 2016. Revenue estimates are expected to grow to $1.65 billion by 2021, according to Newzoo, an online gaming data provider, with 56 percent of that revenue generating from China and North America.

GALLERY: Esports competition at Harrah's

Ortzman said recent esports events in the city have been successful, and more opportunities may exist to capitalize on a growing industry that appeals to the coveted millennial demographic. Caesars Atlantic City hosted the city’s first esports event, Gears of War Pro Circuit, in 2017, and Harrah’s Resort held the Rainbow Six Siege Pro League event in May.

The challenge, he said, has been finding ways to monetize esports, since a segment of the target audience is underage and cannot gamble. But, he added, the esports events provided a marginal increase for food, beverage and hotel sales.

“This is an area that Caesars is really focused on as we try to create new, appealing, innovative gaming, particularly for the millennials,” Ortzman said, before noting the generation will become the largest consumer spending group in the next five years.

Barbara DeMarco, vice president of Porzio Governmental Affairs, a Trenton-based office of the law firm Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Morristown, Morris County, said the project has the capacity to allow for large-scale esports and online gaming events. DeMarco said Continent 8, which already has data rooms for online gaming at Caesars Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino, will be able to provide the technological infrastructure required to effectively and securely host competitive online gaming events throughout Atlantic City.

Casinos embrace esports even as they work to understand it

ATLANTIC CITY — Casinos are slowly embracing competitive video-game tournaments as a way to help their bottom lines, but the money is coming from renting hotel rooms to the young players and selling them food and drinks, not from turning them into gamblers.

“My client (Continent 8) saw a real opportunity in (Atlantic City),” DeMarco said. “The data center in the Convention Center offers space to grow and, eventually, serve the greater South Jersey region by expanding network capabilities and security.”

DeMarco said Continent 8 has already invested close to $2 million in Atlantic City, a large portion of which was spent on becoming the only independent provider to receive a Casino Service Industry Enterprise license from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Marshall Spevak, deputy executive director of the CRDA, said the deal is a “win-win” for the city, the authority and Continent 8. The terms of the lease were approved by CRDA in June and the deal should be in place by the end of the month, Spevak said.

The lease would be for 10 years with two five-year extensions at approximately $101,000 per year.

“(Continent 8) is an internationally known company who brings high-level services,” Spevak said. “They will be a great fit for Atlantic City.”

Dennis cook  

FILE -In this April 26, 2004, file photo, Brett Kavanaugh appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kavanaugh is on President Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court Justice candidates to fill the spot vacated by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File)

Ventnor mother, daughter deaths labeled homicides

VENTNOR — Police and detectives from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office were visible inside and out of the Vassar Square Condominiums Monday, one day after two homicides on the eighth floor roiled the town.

The deaths of a mother and her daughter at the condos have officially been labeled homicides, and the search continues for their killer, according to a statement by Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner.

Elaine Rosen, 87, and her daughter Michelle Gordon, 67, were found dead at approximately 10:25 a.m. Sunday inside a residence there.

Rosen and Gordon were the victims of apparent blunt force trauma, Tyner said.

No arrests have been made, and the deaths are believed to “be an isolated incident and there is no apparent danger to the public,” according to the prosecutor’s release.

Autopsies for both women are scheduled for Tuesday.

On Monday, rumors swirled among residents about the identity of the killer and his or her motive. However the Prosecutor’s Office had not announced either.

Locksmiths were at the building Monday with police, though it is unclear which units they were changing the locks for.

Residents who said they did not want to be identified, saying they were fearful since the killer had not been arrested, said nothing this terrible had ever happened at the condos.

Many of the residents who spoke have lived there for decades.

The Vassar Square Condominiums dub themselves “The Queen of the Ventnor City Boardwalk” and have 212 units.

The doors beyond the main lobby to the elevators and stairs are kept locked, so only people with a key can get into the residence section of the building.

According to public records, Rosen sold unit 802 in the building in 2016 for $100,000.

The joint investigation is continuing between the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit and the Ventnor City Police Department.