In a Boardwalk surprise, two new casinos that were due to open Thursday started taking bets from gamblers a day early.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino both received permission Wednesday afternoon from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to begin full operations, and both immediately started letting gamblers inside, according to a press release.
The two properties still plan elaborate events Thursday, which along with a weekend beach concert have city officials bracing for nearly one million visitors over a historic four-day stretch.
Jim Allen, Hard Rock International chairman and CEO, told The Press of Atlantic City on Wednesday night the grand opening of Hard Rock is still set for Thursday morning “with a few surprises” but they were excited to be open Wednesday night.
“We’re obviously very excited, we were awarded our gaming license this afternoon, so great news, we are now officially open,” Allen said.
As far as rooms for this weekend at Hard Rock, they are at capacity, according to Allen.
“Actually we turned away hundreds of people,” he said.
Ocean Resort Casino owner and Chairman Bruce Deifik was “thrilled” Wednesday night to learn the casino had passed review from the DGE and was able to open to the public.
“I would like to sincerely thank everyone involved in this process — particularly the New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement, which has been an extremely helpful and collaborative partner throughout this process — and am excited to now start welcoming guests to the new Ocean Resort Casino,” he said.
The openings are expected to draw visitors both on Thursday and the weekend to follow. Add Sunday’s beach concert, featuring country singer Sam Hunt, and the Police Department is anticipating anywhere between 750,000 and 1 million tourists over weekend.
“You got the perfect storm coming up,” Capt. Randy Lushina said Wednesday from the Atlantic City Headquarters for Intelligence Logistics Electronic Surveillance, or ACHILES.
Both casinos have hired police officers for additional security, including traffic and day/night club assistance.
Lushina, who commands the Police Department’s Tourism District Unit, said that Class II, or seasonal officers, also will be on the Boardwalk and around both casinos.
“We have about 15 officers up on the Boardwalk at any one time,” he said. “Out of those 15, I’ve taken eight and assigned four to each casino.”
Celebrities and officials from throughout South Jersey are expected to attend the openings. Gov. Phil Murphy canceled his appearance at the two events Thursday, citing the ongoing budget negotiations in Trenton, according to his spokesman.
The Fire Department has been familiarizing themselves with the casinos’ layouts and new configurations, Chief Scott Evans said.
“We’ve had an extensive amount of pre-planning leading up to this,” Evans said. “The biggest thing for us is maintaining situational awareness with the amount of activity that’s expected this weekend. It’s going to be a test of our skills, but we’re ready.”
Evans said the department will maintain full staffing levels throughout the city with administrators and chiefs also available. The department will add personnel for the beach concert, Evans said.
The Fire Department also will be on the fireworks barge Thursday for a 9 p.m. display.
The city’s licensing and inspections department has been working at a feverish pace to ensure fire, plumbing, electrical, elevator and construction codes are being adhered to at the casino hotels. The department is also responsible for inspecting restaurants, bars and pools for health compliance and issuing mercantile licenses for retailers inside the casino properties.
Dale Finch, director of the city’s Department of Licensing and Inspections, said he needed every one of the additional six inspectors who were authorized nearly a year ago when Hard Rock announced a summer opening.
“We made ourselves available to both casino properties and promised we would do all we could to assist. And we did,” Finch said, adding some of the department’s inspectors have been working well into the night to approve certain work in a timely manner.
The state Division of Gaming Enforcement has been on both properties since the beginning of the week inspecting casino games and machines. Hard Rock and Ocean Resort participated in what is known as “soft play” at the start of the week, which allows invited family and friends to play on the casino floor and offers state inspectors an opportunity to make sure the games operate properly.
A spokeswoman for the division said testing continued Wednesday.
Parking and traffic may pose issues for visitors, but nothing significant, Lushina said. Atlantic City Expressway traffic into the city may slow, but there won’t be any traffic diverted.
“I definitely think that the traffic will be heavy, but I think it’ll move quick, and I think people that’ll be stuck in it will be delighted that it’ll move quick,” he said.
Hard Rock has paid parking, and Ocean Resort is offering free parking, a practice that will continue until Labor Day. The Showboat Hotel and Resorts Casino Hotel will act as “overflow” where visitors may have more luck finding a parking spot or hotel room, according to Lushina.
In addition to the casinos, there’s metered parking on streets.
“I think there’s a chance that all four of those casinos — including Resorts, the Showboat and the two new ones — I think they could all probably sell out of hotel rooms, and I think they could all come very close to being almost full capacity in the parking garages,” for the four-day weekend, Lushina said.