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GOMES GAMING | News | The Star Ledger - Sept. 25, 2011

Co-Owner of Resorts casino brings glitz (and controversy)
back to AC

The Star-Ledger | Sept. 25, 2011 | By Lisa Rose

Heavy metal music blares in the showroom at Resorts casino in Atlantic City. Two aerialists fly and writhe to screaming guitars and stentorian beats, wearing black push-up bras, bikini bottoms and thigh-high stockings. They end their routine climbing on top of each other to simulate an erotic encounter.

Welcome to "Cirque Risque," aka the naked circus, a celebration of talent and cleavage. The revue is the product of a sexy makeover at Resorts.

The oldest casino in America’s Playground was sold last December to owners with some wild ideas to lure new crowds. Suggestive images of women are the focal points of a roaring 1920s marketing campaign, mirroring the debauchery depicted in "Boardwalk Empire."

"I like doing things that capture people’s attention," says co-owner Dennis Gomes, 67, a former Las Vegas investigator whose detective work inspired the movie "Casino." In Atlantic City, he helped revitalize the neighboring Tropicana with such exotic promotions as a tic tac toe-playing chicken.

When Resorts unveiled its concept, it made national headlines with a billboard showing a female backside in a g-string and beads, advertising a burlesque show called "Moonshine Follies" (double entendre intended).

Gomes has succeeded in slowing down revenue losses, which counts as a win these days, but his new initiatives are also generating lawsuits and picket lines.

Union protesters have singled out the casino because of wage cuts under the new regime. More than a dozen cocktail waitresses who lost their jobs in the transition are suing, claiming they were let go after tight uniforms were introduced.

"Long-term waitresses were made to do a photo shoot in the new uniform," says union spokesman Ben Begleiter. "Women who were a size 6 or 8 were made to wear uniforms that were size 2 and 4. They were photographed from the neck down and in some cases they were asked to spread their legs wider. The pictures were sent to a modeling agency and 60 percent of the waitresses were terminated. Women can’t wear undergarments in the new uniform."

A towering picture of two flappers in backless dresses adorns the side of the building. Signs are punctuated with the slogan "Let us serve you."

Gomes is unabashed about his flapper fetish. He says he personally designed the uniform. "A woman’s back is beautiful," he says.

In his mind, the flapper era was one of liberation and empowerment.

"It was a time when women could come out and be more equal to men and, heaven forbid, dance in public," says Gomes. "The first flapper I ever saw was a picture of my grandmother."

a big purchase

Gomes purchased the aging property for a bargain, $31.5 million, with partner Morris Bailey, a New York real estate developer. Revenue through August was $106.5 million, off $4.4 million from 2010. That’s an improvement over last year, when earnings slid $24.1 million in the same time frame.

"The average decline for all 11 casinos was 8.7 percent for the first eight months of the year," says Daniel Heneghan, spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. "Resorts had a relatively small decline at 4.1 percent. The smallest decline was the Borgata, at 2.7 percent."

Consumer spending on gambling has been falling industry-wide since the early months of the Great Recession, according to gaming analyst Keith Foley of Moody’s Investor Services. The burgeoning Pennsylvania casino industry is also cutting into Atlantic City’s take. He says casino owners should brace themselves for a permanent reduction in revenue.

"Gaming is a relatively new form of entertainment that grew dramatically during the bubble," says Foley. "The idea that gaming will bounce back to where it was, there’s no evidence to suggest that is happening now or will happen at any point in the future."

Gaming isn’t going away, Foley says, but casinos need to offer more than the fantasy of instant wealth. Gomes describes Resorts as a new company with limited resources. Instead of turning the casino into a theme park, he is offering a whole other type of fantasy.

Cirque Risque ends on Wednesday but there’s talk of a holiday show. In October, female audiences can ogle shirtless male performers, as an "extreme" flamenco dance troupe named Vivancos takes over the showroom.

"It’s focused on seven brothers that are magnificent to look at," says Gomes. "Their bodies are muscular and their dancing is phenomenal."

union protests

The casino workers union, Local 54 of UNITE-HERE is staging weekly protests at Resorts. Although there could be a city-wide strike, the group is targeting Gomes’ property because of pay reductions.

"There were workers who’ve been at Resorts since it opened in 1978 whose salaries were cut more than 50 percent," says Begleiter. "Instead of investing money in the casino, Gomes is trying to make it profitable by slashing salaries."
Gomes says he’s still paying union wages and there would be no jobs if Resorts had closed.

"I hired the workers back at three and a half year salary levels," says Gomes. "The union is claiming that our people are working at poverty wages. If that’s the case, the union is the one that negotiated these rates. We had a job fair today and thousands of people came."

Gomes is seeking candidates to fill slots in case of a strike.

"We’re signing people up so if people walk off the job, they’re going to be replaced temporarily or permanently by people that want to work," says Gomes.
When picketers circle outside chanting "Shame on you, Resorts," Gomes plays an answer chant on loudspeakers near the doors, "We love Resorts."

"Our mission statement is to help every person, executive or line employee, through love and kindness to reach their highest potential," says Gomes. "It creates good karma. In the martial arts, they call it chi. The good chi comes back to you."
It’s going to take a considerable amount of chi to restore healthy profits at Resorts. Atlantic City as a whole took a hit when Pennsylvania legalized table gaming last year.

"People still game but they don’t do it in Atlantic City as much," says Foley, the gambling industry analyst. "If people are offered a good alternative and it’s a closer ride, they’ll go. In June, Pennsylvania was $243 million and Atlantic City was $276 million. In December of 2010, Atlantic City had about $300 million in revenue. Pennsylvania had about $185 million. In December of 2008, Atlantic City had about $302 and Pennsylvania had less than half of that. Pennsylvania is coming up and Atlantic City is going down. They’re getting decimated by Pennsylvania."

Gomes said he believes the business is cyclical and Atlantic City will start bustling again once the economy turns around. Both he and Heneghan point out that luxury tax revenue was up during the first six months of the year.

The total through June 2011 was $15 million, compared with $12.3 million in 2010. The increase indicates that visitors are spending more on hotel rooms, meals and non-gambling activities.

Lisa Rose: lrose@starledger.com.


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