Queen of Resorts Reigns Again

(This story was published in May 27, 1978.)

ATLANTIC CITY -- It's here.

The wheels are spinning and the dice are rolling and the coins are clinking and grande old dame Atlantic City has a saucy swivel in her hips she never had before.

The city will never be the same again.

Resorts International Hotel Casino opened its doors shortly after 10 a.m. Friday and there was a crush of bodies waiting.

Young and old, men and women, they raced into the huge room to stuff coins into the top of the slots and to hope feverishly that winnings would spit from the bottom.

They scrunched into seats at card games and they jammed belly to backside around the craps tables.

They ballooned from the wheels against the walls to the cashiers in the corner.

Within 20 minutes, the crowd in the city's first casino swelled to the 5,000-person capacity, and security guards lifted the barriers.

Then, it was 20 out and 20 in until the crush slowly subsided and the numbers going out matched the numbers coming in.

I.G. Davis, president of Resorts International, stood at the lip of the lounge area overlooking the casino. Television camera cords snaked around his feet. Lights flickered blindingly bright. People pushed past.

He was smiling, and he doesn't do it often.

"We think it will be the busiest casino in the world," David said.

The casino crowd should be bigger today, the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend, even if lousy weather predicted for the shore cuts down a jam of motorists on the highways.

Casino hours will be from 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. today and again Sunday, because of the holiday. On weekdays, the casino will open at 10 a.m. land close at 4 a.m.

Gov. Brendan T. Byrne snipped a ribbon to open the casino ceremonially.

"My father once told me never to bet on anything but Notre Dame and the Yankees," the governor said.

"For those not willing to follow that advice, the casino is now open."

Nobody followed his advice.

The people had been lined up along the Boardwalk in a queue that stretched snakelike around the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Others stood shoulder to shoulder at another casino entrance inside the hotel and still others waited at a third entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Byrne opened the first casino by the sea with a challenge to the resort.

"I think the challenge to Atlantic City is to take the momentum that exists this morning and keep it.

"It's a new lease on life. I'm satisfied we have the human resources. We're going to meet that challenge," he said.

He expressed confidence for the future, but he also said he was "a little apprehensive."

"A great deal depends on what we do at the local level and at the state level to keep the excitement."

The governor said that it is a challenge at the local level for both the area's residents and businessmen "to make it a first-class resort."

State Sen. Steven Perskie of Atlantic County said, "The history of this community obviously changed as of today.

"I have complete faith in our ability as a city to keep the commitments we made to ourselves and the people of New Jersey."

Joseph Lordi, chairman of the Casino Control Commission, was wearied after a marathon commission session the day before when Resorts was granted the necessary clearance to open.

"I see this reawakening Atlantic City," Lordi said. "From this day on, I think we will see a city of growth and prosperity."

Atlantic City Mayor Joseph Lazarow said, "I think we have committed ourselves to keeping this as a wholesome family resort the people want, while still having gambling.

"There is another challenge ... that people here not fight each other because of the new fortunes and problems of the casinos," he said.

"Between the publicity, which was flabbergasting, and the event itself, we drew people we never saw before," Lazarow said. "I expect them to keep coming."

Atlantic City is undergoing a rejuvenation that is expected to boost the economy and halt the slide that has deteriorated much of the city into a slum.

But the warts of the new era will start showing soon.

And Gov. Byrne Friday again warned organized crime to "keep the hell out of Atlantic City," as he did when he signed the casino gambling enabling legislation.

"I think it is necessary to repeat it," the governor said.

But he added, "We have structured law enforcement so they have a tough state to deal with."

State Senate President Joseph Merlino also is worried about crime.

He said there is a need to "watch out for hustlers, pickpockets and the pros ... they will infiltrate."

Merlino said he doesn't believe the criminals will infiltrate the operations of casinos because of the tight regulations, but that some will try to get in support industries such as vending and food services.

"All police agencies have to cooperate," the Senate leader said. "I think we can lick it because it's just starting (legalized gambling). It's a lot better than if they were entrenched."

If more street criminals are coming to Atlantic City, they weren't among the early visitors.

Police ending the 9 a.m.-to-9 p.m. shift Friday said there was no crime reported in that 12-hour span in the casino area. They also reported that there were no traffic problems.

Organized crime is a worry, but it probably didn't concern Mrs. Ray Fisher of Vineland at the moment as she cruised along the 25-cent slot machine aisles in the casino Friday.

Jingling coins in her orange plastic cup, Mrs. Fisher, an 83-year-old great-grandmother and a veteran of the Las Vegas slots, said she thinks Caesars Palace is "prettier," but pronounced the Resorts casino superior.

"The money flows more freely here," she said.

Lines to the cashier's booth stretched 50 to 100 people long at times as they lined up for change. Some of the slots kept conking out, but casino officials have said that mechanical breakdowns are expected until the machines are broken in.

Cab drivers at the bus station reported that a lot of fares were going to hotels, but few directly to the casino.

Driver Edward Ricci said, "Mostly I've been seeing tourists, not gamblers."

Ricci said he expected more gambling trade later in the evening.

"Maybe I'll get lucky. Maybe I'll pick up a winner and someone will throw a $100 chip on the front seat."

There were winners and there were losers.

There was a woman working furiously on a $1 slot machine. She hit the jackpot and stared speechless in wide-eyed wonder as silver dollars dumped into the coin tray and a cashier came over to complete the $300 payoff.

"You did it. You did it," her companion chortled.

Then, there was a loser who was almost monopolizing a roulette wheel

Man alive, I'm a winner," he shouted sourly in reverse wry humor.

"I've got $300 and I only started with $800."

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