1st gay bar in A.C. casino opens

Justin Furter makes drinks at the new Prohibition club at Resorts Casino Hotel. It opened Thursday.
Justin Furter makes drinks at the new Prohibition club at Resorts Casino Hotel. It opened Thursday. (EDWARD LEA / Atlantic City Press)

It has Resorts' Roaring '20s theme. Casino boom destroyed old gay bars.

Posted: May 07, 2011

ATLANTIC CITY - For the first time in the 33-year history of legalized gambling, Atlantic City has a permanent gay nightclub in one of its casinos.

Prohibition opened its doors Thursday at Resorts Casino Hotel, marking the city's strongest bid in a years-long effort to attract one of tourism's most sought-after groups.

"It's long overdue for Atlantic City to have a club like this," said Joel Ballesteros, the casino's new director of marketing for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. "It filled right up and people danced until 3 o'clock in the morning. With the rainbow flag flying outside and all the energy in here, it felt like a celebration."

Prohibition is housed in a 13th-floor room that used to be a lounge for slots players. Its name is a play on the casino's new Roaring '20s theme, inspired by the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

Friday afternoon, a few hours before the club would open for the night, the colored lights were flashing, four giant palm trees scraped the ceiling, and Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" played on a giant video screen.

"I think it's going to work," said Gary Hill, executive director of the Metropolitan Business and Citizens Association and a leader in the city's gay community.

"A lot of casinos have done things for the gay and lesbian community, but never to this level," he said. "They'd do a weekend or a night or hold a special event. But this is what this community wants and needs."

Atlantic City has long been popular with gays. John Schultz, a former city councilman and a philanthropist, owned nine gay clubs during the 1970s. Back then, he said, 250,000 gay visitors would come to Atlantic City on holiday weekends.

But when casino gambling arrived, land values soared and developers knocked down old hotels that contained many gay nightspots.

"Who could afford to open a gay bar anymore?" Schultz said.

He sold his last business, Studio Six, five years ago. But he and Hill, his longtime partner, helped talk new Resorts owner Dennis Gomes into opening a permanent gay bar.

"People think gays don't gamble," Schultz said. "That's not true. They gamble. They drink. They like to travel. And they have that extra income. Why do cruise lines have gay weeks? Because 2,000 to 3,000 gay people who can afford it go on their ships. It's a new world now."

The four Caesars Entertainment casinos in Atlantic City - Harrah's Resort Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City, Bally's Atlantic City and the Showboat Casino Hotel - have hosted "Out in Atlantic City" weekends in recent years, and the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort hosts "gay bingo" nights.

The city also hosts a drag queen spoof of the now-departed Miss America pageant, called "Miss'd America," that draws gay tourists from around the country.

In Las Vegas, the Krave nightclub at the Planet Hollywood casino is a full-time gay club. And many of the Vegas strip casinos host gay nights on Sundays, or pool parties at certain times.

Gomes chose Thursday night to open Prohibition without announcing it in advance, in part because the club got its permits to open several hours before. But it also coincided with the debut of a drag show, "Believe - Divas in a Man's World," that the casino is presenting.

"I believe love is the most powerful force in the universe, and when you believe that, you have to welcome everyone," he said. "You can't say, 'You're not important enough to come to our facility during its peak periods.' I want to embrace this community because I love them. I really do."

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