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Gaming in Atlantic City..............
A History of Legal Gambling in New Jersey -
Part Four -- By Stephen Piccolo
As the 80's began, it seemed that finally the "new construction" edict of the state was finally happening in Atlantic City. The Brighton, built by Greate Bay Casino Corporation on the site of its former namesake, was the first all- new casino-hotel to open in Atlantic City. At a cost of $69 million, the complex had 506 rooms in a nineteen story tower. The casino, at 32,000 square feet, was rather small for the times in Atlantic City which probably contributed to the financial difficulties that faced the Brighton. The Brighton was in money trouble from the moment it opened its doors on August 31, 1980. The principal stockholders in Greate Bay, a publicly traded company, were Eugene V. Gatti and Arthur J. Kania, both of Ocean City, which also made the Brighton the first casino owned by local businessmen. Gatti and Kania were also the first applicants that it seemed would obtain a permanent license with the full blessing of the Division of Gaming Enforcement.
By October of that same year, bankruptcy rumors were surrounding the property. Before long, it was announced that the Brighton was being sold to the PPI Corporation, a newly formed company owned jointly by Inns of America, Inc. and two financiers, Burton and Richard Koffman. The privately owned Inns of America were owned by the Pratt brothers, Jack, Edward and William, and operated franchised Holiday Inns in the U.S. and Latin America. It had just bought the Sands in Las Vegas from Summa Corporation and to capitalize on the Las Vegas reputation, the Brighton was renamed the Sands of Atlantic City in May of 1981. Jack Pratt also brought in many top Caesars World executives, including its COO, Stephen F. Hyde, to help make the Sands a winner.
For the first time, the commission voted unanimously to grant the Sands new owners a permanent license without any special conditions. The Sands has survived, unlike its Vegas counterpart, well into the 90's. It was purchased in the early 90's by the successful riverboat operators, the Hollywood Casino Corporation. They have slowly been introducing a "Hollywood" theme to the property with the intent of changing the Sands name to Hollywood Casino-Hotel in the future. Recent expansion plans to add a second tower with 600 more rooms have also been announced and if indeed gets built, it should position the Sands/Hollywood as one of the top operators in Atlantic City for years to come.
Bill Harrah, with two highly successful casinos in Reno and Lake Tahoe, had decided to come to Atlantic City only one month before his death in 1978. Had he lived, it is doubtful he would have sold a 99% interest in his company to Holiday Inns, Inc. Harrahs Marina was originally started as Holiday Inn Marina Casino. I even remember the sign in front of the property during construction. When Holiday Inns purchased Harrah's, it decided to use the Harrah's name at its Atlantic City facility to capitalize on the Harrah's name and reputation in the casino industry. This was the first casino to be built outside of the boardwalk casino strip. The 506 room complex lies at the foot of the Brigantine Bridge about one mile from the boardwalk. Although some sensitive foreign payments were brought up at the license hearings, the commission voted unanimously to grant a license to Harrah's/Holiday Inns.
Harrah's Marina opened its doors on November 23, 1980 and has been one of the top revenue generators in Atlantic City from the beginning. In the mid 80's, Harrah's added its 260 room Atrium Suites tower to the property. Harrah's was involved in another property in Atlantic City - Harrah's Boardwalk at Trump Plaza, but that will be covered later. Harrah's also purchased the old Chalfonte Hotel from Resorts for $26 million. They demolished it and announced plans for a 551 room casino- hotel. This never came to pass. Recently Harrah's announced a major expansion to the Marina to bring its room inventory well over 2000 rooms. With this expansion, Harrah's is preparing to be on an even level with the new mega-resorts planned as their neighbors in the marina in the future.
Next issue will cover the Golden Nugget - Atlantic City, Steve Wynn's FIRST venture into Atlantic City and the ill-fated attempt by Playboy to enter the U.S. gaming market.