On the occasion of our big issue celebrating three decades of gaming in Atlantic City, I thought I would add my voice to the chorus of nostalgia that has shouted from these pages.
I don’t have any dealer stories like our publisher Roger Gros, or crime-fighting, mob-busting stories like Dennis Gomes, or whoops-they-denied-my-license stories like Barron Hilton.
I have no “prior life” in Atlantic City. I’m not an ex-dealer, an ex-regulator or an ex-con. I was never in the mob. They didn’t call me “Chicken Man” or anything like that. (Actually, it was “Frankie Tunes.”) I never pushed a rolling chair or served as a lifeguard. (I don’t even like to take my shirt off. In public, anyway.)
No, I came to Atlantic City as a reporter, and a reporter I remain. Well, OK, I’m an “editor,” but that’s just a fancy word for reporter. I was called “editor” in 1984, the first time I came to Atlantic City, but I was still just a 27-year-old punk reporter-it just so happened that I was reporter, editor and just about everything else for a magazine called Casino Gaming when I first took one of those puddle-jumper planes from Washington, D.C., to good old Bader Field.
Now that was traveling in style. The kind of plane where the pilot shouted “Contact!” before starting up. If it was raining, water would seep in while you were flying. As you approached your destination, instead of saying, “We’re beginning our final descent into Atlantic City,” they would say, “We’re approaching our drop zone.”
Bader Field at the time was kind of like a big bus terminal, except that the buses left the ground.
I always went first-class, of course-the Claridge! The Claridge was exactly the same in 1984 as it had been when it opened in 1930. In fact, I think it had all the same employees.
The Claridge was great for people with gambling problems, because you never got to the casino. Your entire stay was spent riding to your room in the elevator. They were absolutely the slowest elevators on the planet. There were families whose children began school on the second floor and graduated by the 20th floor.
Atlantic City back in those days was not exactly the magnet for young, hip, twenty-somethings it is today. It was the age of the “blue-hairs.” If you visited a casino in mid-morning, it was like there had been a jail break at the rest home-a traffic-jam of walkers, canes and cantankerous fuss-budgets. And all of them had rolls of quarters. The casinos would give them the first roll of quarters, to prime the pump, and so they would have something to hit you over the head with if you got in their way.
I started writing about Atlantic City casinos back in the era when state officials, including some of the regulators, considered the gaming industry an inflamed canker sore on the rear-end of the state’s business community.
No one, I mean no one, messed with the regulators. I remember having lunch in Reno with George Drews, who was president of International Game Technology, one day in 1985. He was telling me about the young company’s biggest order to date-hundreds of slots and video poker machines for the new Atlantic City Hilton.
One of his assistants came in and whispered something in his ear, and he turned a rather attractive shade of off-white. New Jersey regulators had denied Hilton a license, just as hundreds of IGT slots bearing the Hilton logo were rolling off the assembly lines.
Luckily, The Donald bailed George out, buying all of the machines the Hilton had previously purchased.
It was just another step in the birthing process for Atlantic City gaming. As we all know, the ’90s eventually came, and Steve Perskie and Pat Dodd took over the Casino Control Commission, and the casinos flourished.
And me? I went to work for one Roger Gros, over at Casino Journal and Casino Player. Adam Fine and Roger had come up with the idea for the Atlantic City Insider, a newsletter for players that would accept no advertising.
I was allowed to say whatever the heck I wanted about Atlantic City casinos.
That, of course, is when many of you AC casino execs got to know me, and my particular brand of, umm, humor.
I’m hoping that now that 30 years have passed, we can all be friends again. Happy 30th, AC gaming. May we all survive to be the blue-hairs of the future.