ATLANTIC CITY — As he had done more than 500 times before, Dan Heneghan spent his lunch break climbing the 228 steps of the Absecon Lighthouse. Only this time was different. Not just because he was joined by co-workers and his sister, Geraldine, but because it was the final trip he would take from his office at the Casino Control Commission on Tennessee Avenue.
“This is the last time before I retire,” he said in a recent interview, standing outside the Keeper’s House overlooking Atlantic City.
For 43 years, Heneghan has helped write the story of the casino industry, and with his retirement June 29, a chapter of the resort’s history became complete.
As a reporter for The Press of Atlantic City from 1975 to 1996, Heneghan approached covering casinos the same way a journalist in Detroit or Pittsburgh would have approached the heyday of the automobile and steel industries, he said. He covered the legalization of casino gambling in New Jersey, the opening of Resorts International Casino (now Resorts Casino Hotel) in 1978 and the industry’s massive growth during the 1980s.
“The big difference was that I had a chance to form and mold the beat the way I wanted to,” the 65-year-old Ventnor resident said. “I covered it more as a business.”
Reflecting on what he found most satisfying about his role as a reporter, Heneghan cited the ability to have a “clear impact on public policy” where it was obvious his work made government agencies change direction.
Michael Pollock, a former colleague at The Press of Atlantic City and now managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, said Heneghan’s accuracy and commitment to truth stood out in the newsroom.
“He had this amazing ability to put complex issues into context that was easily understood,” Pollock said about his friend of four decades.
Wayne Schaffel, a Bally’s Park Place executive in the 1980s, said Heneghan never shied away from a response and always gave straight answers.
“You just can’t ask for more than that in the communications field,” Schaffel said. “In an industry that is now hopelessly mired in what is called ‘fake news,’ promulgated by even more ‘fake communicators,’ Dan was always the exception.”
“You always knew where you stood with Dan,” said Lloyd D. Levenson, CEO and chairman of the casino-law department at the Cooper Levenson law firm in Atlantic City. “He was remarkably to the point and has a tremendous grasp of right and wrong.”
Heneghan took those skills and institutional knowledge with him when he began working at the Casino Control Commission in March 1996 as the agency’s public information officer. It was a move Heneghan said was influenced by wanting to spend more time with his family, which included his wife, Cathy, and the couple’s three children.
“I missed the excitement of a newsroom, that adrenaline rush when a story was coming together and knowing that the competition was struggling to catch up to me,” he said. “But I didn’t miss dinner.”
During his 22-year career at the CCC, Heneghan worked under five chairmen, most recently James Plousis, who said the agency’s public information officer was as dedicated to his state job as he was to his prior role in the press.
But there’s more to Heneghan than casinos. He has a well-known and deep appreciation for the Absecon Lighthouse. What began as a way to exercise during his lunch break morphed into a familial bond with the volunteers at the lighthouse and a sense of duty to maintain a piece of the city’s history. He solicited friends and family to sponsor his climbs of the 228-step lighthouse for $1. In one year, he raised nearly $1,600 for Atlantic City’s oldest standing structure. He’s made 54 trips in 2018 alone.
Commissioner Alisa Cooper, a friend of Heneghan’s over the course of both his careers, said the man is “one of a kind.”
“His enthusiasm, energy and genuine concern for gaming in Atlantic City — and I’ll take that one step further and say his concern for Atlantic City — will be deeply missed,” she said. “His love for this city is second to none.”
Heneghan said he has no regrets about retiring just as the city he loves is rebounding after some tough years with the opening of two new casinos, a college campus and development of all sizes.
“I’m hoping that it will work, that all of this will succeed,” he said.
Standing at the top of his favorite spot in Atlantic City, Heneghan said he’s ready for whatever comes next.
“I’ve done my job,” he said. “It’s time.”