GOMES GAMING | News |
Philadelphia Daily News - September 10, 2010
Dennis Gomes relishes challenge of running Resorts
By Chuck Darrow
IT'S LOGICAL to think Dennis Gomes and his partner, Morris Bailey, might have a brighter financial future investing in a uranium mine in Asbury Park or some similar harebrained scheme than by acquiring Resorts Atlantic City, among the casinos hardest hit by the double whammy of legal gambling in Pennsylvania and a sour economy.
News reports of the duo's impending purchase of Resorts have overwhelmingly contained positive feedback. Gaming industry analyst Michael Pollock told the Press of Atlantic City, "If anyone can [bring Resorts to profitability], Dennis Gomes can."
This makes sense, because no one of any standing in Atlantic City wants to publicly put on anything but a happy face, given the town's financial struggles. Privately however, there is some whispering among AyCee insiders that Gomes is on a mission that is at best "quixotic."
But Gomes, 65, who happily acknowledges the "doom-and-gloom sayers," would beg to differ. After all, he's been here before.
"When Donald Trump was trying to get me to go to the Taj Mahal [in the early 1990s], all of Wall Street was saying, 'Don't go, it's a white elephant, it can't [be saved],' " he recalled during a Wednesday afternoon chat in his Atlantic Avenue office a block or so from Resorts. "But I looked at it and saw something different. And we went from $84 million in operating profit to $148 million in 3 1/2 years."
As a matter of fact, he continued, it's exactly because his purchase of Resorts seems so irrational that he's convinced he will succeed. "Whenever I have an idea that everyone tells me is crazy, then I know I'm right," he said with a smile.
Crazy idea or not, Gomes has rolled the dice.
He and Bailey - an Atlantic City-born, New York-based real estate developer - recently purchased AyCee's oldest legal casino for a reported $35 million, by far the lowest price ever paid for a New Jersey gambling den.
Now Gomes is moving forward to transform Resorts, the bulk of which is housed in a building that was the cat's meow when Prohibition-era crime czar Enoch Lewis "Nucky" Johnson ruled the roost, into one of the town's hottest properties. That job, he said, will start with something more intangible than concrete.
Sure, he is planning some physical renovations and additions to Atlantic City's first legal casino. But, he promised, Job One for him and his team (which includes his 29-year-old son, Aaron) will be to juice the vibe inside the hotel-casino complex on the Boardwalk at North Carolina Avenue.
"It's all about energy," declared Gomes, who expects his deal to close in early December. "To me, [the success of a casino] is not about what I see, it's what I feel. And that's the energy level in a place. We're gonna blow the energy level out of sight."
He'll do that in part by livening up Resorts' public spaces, primarily with entertainers who, he believes, will give his property a palpable sense of excitement.
As for more tangible improvements, Gomes offered a number of thoughts, from recruiting Blanche Morro, the popular "Singing Bartender" he hired when he was running Tropicana Casino and Resort, to sprucing up the high-roller gaming areas, to changing the rather garish carpeting and installing flat-screen TVs in the casino's original hotel tower.
Most dramatically, Gomes is looking to open up a currently sealed-off second-level space of some 30,000 square feet. "This is a prime spot for doing a restaurant," he said, adding that he's already "looking at some of the top chefs in the country."
As for the casino's 1,400-seat Superstar Theatre, Gomes expects eclectic programming, from top headliners to community-oriented events. And, not surprisingly, he intends to keep Boogie Nights, the 1970s- and '80s-themed disco that, for the past few years, has been Resorts' most consistently successful marketing weapon.
During his stints running the Taj Mahal and later the Tropicana, Gomes succeeded with savvy marketing strategies that included having his properties host events and exhibitions that, on the surface, didn't seem to mesh with what the public expected from a casino. These included summerlong exhibits dedicated to the Titanic, President John Kennedy and the history of torture, and The Quarter, the Trop's game-changing retail and entertainment complex.
He also wasn't afraid to get downright goofy to attract new customers and publicity. Remember the Trop's tic-tac-toe-playing chicken? In case you're wondering, Gomes has ruled out bringing the chicken to Resorts, although he did suggest (apparently with tongue in cheek) he would consider a penguin.
While some might believe Resorts will wind up being "Gomes' Folly," there are those in Atlantic City who view him as the guy who will get the casino town back on the winning track. The pressure of being seen as a savior might be too much for some. But Gomes' philosophy is strictly "What? Me worry?"
"People who know me know I don't normally show I'm under pressure," he said. "And that's because I'm not."
Before he began his career in the gaming industry, Gomes was in law enforcement in Nevada. He led the efforts to cleanse Las Vegas casinos of organized crime (the story at the root of the Martin Scorsese mob classic, "Casino").
Compared with doing that, he said, running Resorts will a piece of cake.
The death threats made against him and his family during that period of his life led him to understand what is truly important, he said. "When you're alive and you're family's healthy, nothing counts after that. I don't feel the stress. All I feel is excitement. I love a challenge."
Chuck Darrow has been covering Atlantic City and casinos for more than 20 years.
<<Back to News