Borgata's big night New casino flaunts class - and sass

Posted: July 03, 2003

ATLANTIC CITY — Everywhere you look, naked women are twisting their torsos under hot lights.

OK, that's just the artwork.

But things are definitely different here at the $1.1 billion Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City's first new casino in 13 years, which last night opened its doors to the public at 11:38 with a first roll of the dice by actor Stephen Dorff.

"Borgata, baby, Borgata," he said as he wagered $500 at a craps table.

Soon afterward, cars began pulling up to the casino as the public began streaming in.

Different is part of the master plan of this mega-resort, designed to be the first of a new generation of Atlantic City casinos - one that appeals to a sophisticated and hipper crowd, with nightclubs, high-end restaurants, and an "in-crowd" sensibility in addition to the basic slots and table games.

"You can feel the emotion and passion," said Sid Vaikunta, the Borgata's marketing honcho, who, with Borgata chief Bob Boughner, conducted years of polling to find out what people wanted from Atlantic City that they weren't getting. "Bob and his designers designed this place to be very much about touch and feel and embrace," Vaikunta said.

Here, the room showers are big enough for two.

Here, hotel guests walk through a private "living room" (with two abstract paintings of naked women on the walls, natch) to get to the elevators.

Here, employees are "charter associates" with access to a relaxation lounge where they can listen to music on headsets while gazing at wall poetry about the soothing nature of "Borgata colors."

Here, the decor's dominant colors are anything but the garish look that Atlantic City casinos have favored. Instead, they are tans and beiges and taupes. The feel is refined elegance - but mischievously set against a backdrop of repeated enticements to be naughty.

Here, the gamblers are given color-coded access to premium lounges: Red Label, Black Label, Titanium Label.

Here, chefs are personalities - such as Luke Palladino, who used his personal collection of antique hand mirrors (some dating back 100 years) to decorate his restaurant.

Here, the all-you-can-eat buffet (yes, there is one) features hand-painted ceilings and Tuscan-inspired decor, with servers who toss potatoes around while yelling, "Hot potato!"

"It doesn't feel like gross, huge pans of food," said Victor Tiffany, head of the Borgata's food and beverages. "You have the feel of a rich Tuscan villa."

Refined meets racy

Here, bettors in the simulcasting lounge each have their own terminal on which to place bets on horse races.

Here, the slot stools have foot rests.

Here, elegant wood furniture and marble archways and floors give off the feel of a classy, luxury hotel, even as the advertising, artwork and costumes - such as those of the barely dressed Borgata Babes cocktail servers - come at you with a wink.

In one Borgata magazine ad, a couple order two cans of whipped cream, passing over wine and food; in another, a couple in underwear apparently have chosen "nothing at all" over a dress, miniskirt or peasant blouse. Doorknob privacy-signs read "Tied up."

The play between the refined look of the hotel and the other, more decadent message is deliberate, Boughner said. "Borgata really is the confluence of classic and contemporary," he said. "It's fun. We don't take ourselves too seriously. It's not stuffy."

Here, not being from Atlantic City is considered an asset. The casino may be billed as Las Vegas-style in its scope and emphasis on non-gambling attractions, but those looking for flashy Vegas themes will not find them at the Borgata.

Instead, one dominant undercurrent seems to be hipster New York.

Manhattan transfer

"I'm not familiar with Atlantic City," said Aaron Sanchez, chef (you may have seen him on the Food Network) and developer of Mixx, a Latin-Asian restaurant that at 10 p.m. transforms itself into a club with private club rooms for rent. "That's why they have me here - to bring in New York flavor."

This being Atlantic City, though, the Borgata knows the hipster stuff can go only so far; it has also booked perennial Paul Anka for October. A joint venture of Boyd Gaming and MGM Mirage, the Borgata features 2,002 rooms and suites, 11 restaurants, 11 shops, a 50,000-square-foot spa, and a 1,000-seat theater.

Yesterday, it was clear that the final kinks were still being ironed out.

Elevators to the highest floors went out after a control board burned, forcing some guests to walk down.

Electricians and other contractors were all over the property, making last-minute fixes.

Trees were being planted.

A bomb-sniffing dog doing routine checks around the casino was also doing some messy business all over the marble floors.

The most luxurious of the suites were not finished. Boughner said no rooms on the top floor would be used for the opening weekend.

As for the outer look of the building, Boughner acknowledged that the 43-story building has a quite noticeable design flaw: It looks as if it has four broken windows it hasn't gotten around to fixing.

They actually are louvered vents for an elevator machine room, Boughner said, adding that "I am having them remade. They will be barely noticeable."

Yesterday, as media types from around the country went on "Borgata 101 tours" - minus the spa and pool, for undisclosed reasons - employees raved.

"Everything is so big - big portions of everything - so much of everything," said Carlos Hernandez, 27, a door-keeper at the valet parking entrance.

The casino, unlike other Atlantic City casinos, has its public spaces mostly on one floor, a vast expanse of space that can give an employee - and a guest - a workout.

For such a big space, though, the 135,000-square-foot casino floor is built under relatively low ceilings - "purposely more intimate," Vaikunta said.

State troopers, concerned about traffic, were not allowing anyone to exit to the Borgata until the casino was officially open to avoid any backup into the $330 million tunnel and roadway leading to it in the city's marina section.

Some of the Borgata's competitors also showed up yesterday to look around and had with nice things to say. (Although Donald Trump, in New York, wanted to talk only about the casino's having been built on a former landfill.)

The other casinos, which have invested $800 million in their properties in anticipation of the opening, are hoping the Borgata can attract new customers to the resort and not just cannibalize their business.

"It's a sensational property," said Nicholas Ribis, vice chairman of Resorts International. "They hit the mark. The facility has a different feel - clean, crisp and youthful. We could all learn something."

Contact staff writer Amy Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or e-mail arosenberg@phillynews.com.

Borgata at a Glance

Cost: $1.1 billion

Casino area: 135,000 square feet, with 145 gaming tables, including 34 poker tables; 3,650 slot machines; 9,112 square feet of casino simulcasting

Theater: 1,000 seats

Employees: 4,800

Guest rooms: 2,002, including suites

Rates: $179 (weekday) to $249 (weekend) for classic rooms; $249 and $325 for Fiore suites

Food and beverages: 11 restaurants, 14,000 bottles of wine, 50 different cheese selections, 20 brands of tequila available at Gypsy Bar, Kobe beef hot dog ($19 at Old Homestead Steakhouse)

Shopping: 11 retail shops

Amenities: 50,000-square-foot spa

Event space: 70,000 square feet

Parking: 7,100 spaces

Building: 43 stories

Building materials: 100,000 cubic yards of concrete, 800,000 square feet of imported marble, 400,000 square feet of gold glass, 60,000 truckloads of fill, 15 miles of lighting, 10,000 tons of structural steel

High-tech infrastructure: 400 miles of wire (12,000 cables) to support 100 plasma screens, 700 personal computers, 125 food and beverage terminals, and email and voice-mail boxes for all 4,800 employees.

Landscaping: 2,400 trees

Miscellaneous: Capacity of room showers: two. Microchips are sewn into employees' uniforms to track their laundering and whereabouts

Ad slogan: "Go to Your Happy Place"

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