EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the price of the Sam Hunt beach concert, ticket prices start at $59.50.
ATLANTIC CITY – The city’s two new casinos, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and Ocean Resort Casino, opened their doors Thursday amid splintering guitars, popping champagne corks, falling confetti, blaring music and a bustling Boardwalk.
Before the weekend is over, the historic dual casino openings — both of which welcomed gamblers the night before — are expected to draw as many as 1 million people to the resort, ending with a Sunday beach concert by country music artist Sam Hunt.
Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam celebrated the day as a “new era.”
“Not only did we open one, we’re opening two casinos in one day,” said Gilliam, who attended both openings. “Atlantic City is open for business.”
A noticeable energy was present on the Boardwalk and trickled into the casinos. Long lines formed inside as residents and visitors gathered to be part of the action.
“They brought a Vegas feel (to the Boardwalk),” said Atlantic City resident Ed Cota, 33. “I think it’s going to rocking for a long time.”
Cota said Hard Rock reminds him of entertainment and he liked the music and energy inside while sitting at an electronic craps game on the casino floor.
Hard Rock marked their opening with the company’s traditional smashing of guitars and musical performance from “The Greatest Showman” on stage of the Hard Rock LIVE at Etess Arena.
“We believe this project will create a new renaissance in the future for the expansion and excitement of Atlantic City going back to being one of the great entertainment cities in the United States,” said Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming.
He said he hopes the $500 million renovation of the former Trump Taj Mahal will be “the bridge to a revitalization of Atlantic City.”
At Ocean Resort, a Frank Sinatra soundtrack floated in the background as city, state and casino officials cut the ribbon that reopened the 6.3 million-square foot casino hotel in the Inlet.
The former Revel had been closed since 2014, with little prospect of reopening until Colorado developer Bruce Deifik bought it for $200 million on Jan. 4.
Deifik, standing with his wife, son and daughter in front of the towering hotel and casino, said he has been working on this investment for the past 13 months – a period that includes the time he was negotiating its sale with Florida developer Glenn Straub.
Seeing it come together was a special moment for Deifik, who called himself the “head ambassador” for the casino.
“I really have felt that there’s a renaissance that’s been happening (in Atlantic City),” Deifik said. “Things are changing.”
Talk of a rebirth for this gambling city was contagious Thursday.
The new casinos, the dawn of sports betting, and the September opening of Stockton University’s beach campus all suggested a shift away from the last five years of casino closings, lost jobs and a controversial state takeover of local government.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, said both openings were part of a new path for Atlantic City, one that couldn’t have happened without “unpopular” moves — a reference to the 2016 takeover.
“Atlantic City had some really dark days,” he said.
“We’re on the rise and we couldn’t have done it without Hard Rock. ... We’re back.”
Joining officials at Ocean Resort, State Sen. Chris Brown, R — Atlantic, touted the jobs the casinos were bringing.
“How cool is this?” he said. “We have over 3,500 families here in Atlantic County who are back to work thanks to (Deifik).”
While Hard Rock had the louder, glitzier opening, Ocean Resort had a few surprises too. The casino welcomed celebrity Mark Wahlberg, who made a sports bet at the William Hill Sports Book.
Wahlburgers, a family restaurant, should be open in the next 30 days, he said.
“It’s such an amazing opportunity for everybody to be a part of the community, and to be a part of our family, and to share our family experience with the families of Atlantic City,” he said.
Absent Thursday was Gov. Phil Murphy, who cancelled his scheduled appearances in Atlantic City Thursday to stay in Trenton and focus on budget negotiations in an effort to avoid a state government shutdown on July 1.
Because Atlantic City casinos are regulated by the state, a shutdown would force the gaming halls to close after seven days.
Allen was asked about his concerns of a looming shutdown putting a damper on the party.
Allen said he wasn’t worried, adding he is a “firm believer in the process.”