Alantic City – It was 7:24 a.m. Saturday when the announcement that the casino was back in business came over the loudspeaker at Caesars Atlantic City.
About a dozen gamblers waiting at the top of the escalator on the second level clapped their hands with glee and headed for their favorite slot machines as security guards removed the velvet ropes from the gaming area entrance.
A bleary-eyed Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed the executive order to restart the state government at about 6:15 a.m., after legislators worked all night to pass a budget, the lack of which closed the gaming halls for three days. The casinos were forced to shut down Wednesday morning after the legislature couldn’t pass a budget by July 1, and the state constitution mandated the governor close all nonessential services, including gaming inspectors.
“I’m dying to play already,” Phyllis Snyder, of Lansdale, Pa., said just a few minutes before the all-clear was given. “I came down for dinner last night just to see what it looked like all closed down. It was eerie.”
An early riser, Snyder said she got up at 4:45 a.m. to watch the news to see what was happening in Trenton. But by 7:20 a.m., her main goal was to get on a Mr. Cashman slot machine.
It wasn’t long before the familiar hum of the slots and the odor of cigarette smoke filled the city’s gaming halls. Casinos gradually opened gaming areas one by one, as the employees to staff them filtered in to work.
An inspector from the Casino Control Commission arrived at Caesars at 7:04 a.m., and was greeted by supervisors anxious to get the slot reels spinning.
The inspector had the key to the safe-deposit box, which held the keys that allow the casino to open the table-game trays and access slot machines and other essentials, Caesars general manager Daniel Nita said. It would take about 15 minutes to get the slot machines in operation, and the table games would open soon thereafter, “depending on how many dealers we can shake out of bed.”
Caesars had a full showroom Friday night and the Pier was busy, but most of the guests were in town to challenge Lady Luck in the casino, Nita said.
“We’re happy to have (the shutdown) behind us, and we’ll hopefully have demonstrated to the state how important this industry is,” Nita said.
Several gamblers didn’t want to risk sleeping through the opening and stayed up all night to await the moment.
“It was more about the event,” said Erin Esposito, of Brant Beach, who came with sister Jacquie Esposito, of Tewksbury Township, and friend Thomas Dunleavy, of Jersey City.
“This is history. The casinos have never been closed before,” Dunleavy said.
The trio stayed up all night in the hotel room watching TV news. Only Erin Esposito took a catnap.
“We kept chanting, ‘Sign it! Sign it!’” Dunleavy said.
Entering the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino at 7:31 a.m., Erica Rice, of Cedarhurst, N.Y., said she had been in town since Thursday.
“I even stayed an extra night because I was told they would open,” Rice said. She’s not a heavy gambler, “but the idea of going to Atlantic City and not being able to gamble is absurd.”
Matt Johnson, of Point Pleasant, called the opening “perfect timing,” as he and a friend sat at a roulette table in Caesars while dealers readied the game for play.
“I came down for a bachelor party Friday night,” Johnson said. “As soon as the party was over, the casino opened,” and he was glad to be inside.
“Not as glad as we are,” one casino worker said as she walked into the pit.
Back to work
For the workers coming back from a three-day furlough, the opening couldn’t have come soon enough. Many had an extra spring in their step Saturday morning as thy walked up the Boardwalk to their jobs.
“It was terrible being out,” said Fred Carney, a floor supervisor at Caesars, as he waited for two more dealers to arrive so a craps table could start. He spent his furlough watching television and “couldn’t wait to get back in here.”
Gina Kerrigan, a cocktail server at Resorts Atlantic City, said she was bored staying home. Players also seem happy to be back, she said.
“I’m seeing a few regulars who missed us,” said Kerrigan, of Absecon.
For managers, too, the governor’s order came just in time.
George Toth, president of the Sands Casino Hotel, had said he considered closing the entire operation as the hotel’s occupancy edged down toward 40 percent.
“We’re back to normal operations now,” Toth said Saturday. “By the time I left about (10 a.m.), it started to look like a typical Saturday morning again.”
A couple of casinos offered incentives to get players back in the door on Saturday. Resorts allowed customers to redeem bonus cash offers over the weekend.
“We started communicating with customers last night in anticipation of being open today,” spokesman Brian Cahill said.
There was a nice crowd waiting to get inside when the casino opened at about 7:30 a.m., but “the lines this morning weren’t quite what they were in ’78 when we opened,” Cahill quipped.
Some players hoped the slot machines would be in a generous mood when they started working after a long rest.
Anita Jackson, of Washington, D.C., said she and her husband, William, were about to leave town when they heard the casinos would open early Saturday.
“I guess we’ll stay a couple extra days,” she said.
“I lost a lot of money in this hotel over the years,” William Jackson said. “Since they just opened up, I figured they’d show a little mercy and give some of it back.”
No such luck. After about 80 minutes of play, Jackson said he was ahead by only 10 bucks.
Apparently, some things never change.