Resorts Atlantic City adds casinos' first gay nightclub

Posted: June 20, 2011

KATIE TEDDER and her girlfriend, Julia Arikh, had endless options when they were deciding where they would celebrate Arikh's 30th birthday. Their choices included Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa, where the two have been longtime regulars.

But as a recent Friday evening was melting into Saturday morning, the pair wasn't partying at AyCee's hippest adult playground but on the 13th floor at Resorts Atlantic City. For Tedder, 56, of Ewing Township, N.J., the visit was nothing less than a revelation.

"I feel like I fit in here," she said gesturing toward the dance floor. "I am so proud I lived to see this."

"This" is Prohibition, the not-quite-2-month-old danceteria that is the first gay nightclub in an Atlantic City casino. It's one of a number of innovations Resorts co-owner/CEO Dennis Gomes, who assumed control of the property in December, hopes will return the financially beleaguered gaming hall to profitability.

Located in a space formerly used as a high-roller lounge, Prohibition is small compared with dance clubs in some other casinos. But its multistory ceiling keeps it from having a claustrophobic feel. Fake palm trees decorate the dance floor's corners, and the DJs' music is mostly contemporary stuff as opposed to that played in Resorts' other disco, the '70's- and '80s-themed Boogie Nights.

Perhaps the only things that identify Prohibition as a gay nightspot are the predominance of male patrons and the surprisingly graphic (though not hard-core) homoerotic videos projected on its large video screens.

Gomes, a veteran gaming-industry executive, has long been known for his out-of-the-box marketing strategies. While running Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, he brought in such attractions as the Tic-Tac-Toe-playing chicken and a huge exhibit dedicated to the history of torture.

But installing a disco specifically - if not exclusively - for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patrons never occurred to him until the subject was broached by several of his friends, including John Schultz, a veteran gay-nightlife entrepreneur who owned, among other Atlantic City hot spots, the now-closed Studio Six.

"John said to me, 'You know what would be great at Resorts? A gay nightclub,' " recalled Gomes. "That's when I realized there were no gay nightclubs in any casino in the U.S. and probably the world." The idea, he continued, melded perfectly with what Gomes described as his "philosophy of inclusion and loving everyone."

To ensure Prohibition would connect with its intended audience, Gomes hired Joel Ballesteros as the casino's first director of GLBT marketing. Ballesteros' gay-community bona fides include running a successful weekly GLBT event at the Ram's Head Inn in nearby Absecon and producing the "Miss'd America" pageant, a recently revived annual drag show that serves as a fundraiser for local alternative-lifestyle organizations and charities.

Ballesteros said his goal was to create "a place where anyone can come and feel safe and comfortable and be themselves."

"There was so much history [of gay clubs in Atlantic City], and all of a sudden, there was nothing. For it to go away and come back in such a big way . . . was huge for the gay community."

Because any casino claims a culturally diverse clientele, Gomes steeled himself for at least a few protests from patrons who might be uncomfortable with Resorts' gay-friendly approach. But, he noted, the response "has been just the opposite. There have been no customer complaints."

To be sure, Resorts is not the first gambling den to go after the GLBT dollar. In 2009, the four casinos owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc. (now Caesars Entertainment) - Bally's, Caesars, Harrah's and Showboat - staged the first "Out in AC Weekend." This year's edition is scheduled for the fall, but details have yet to be announced. And other gaming halls have booked entertainers favored by the GLBT crowd.

The reason is obvious.

"As a whole [the GLBT segment spends] $60 billion a year in travel in the United States," said Jeff Guaracino, who wrote the book on alternative-lifestyle travel (2007's Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing). That demographic, he added, "tends to like arts and culture. They have great fashion sense and like a great nightlife."

"Atlantic City overall has begun to court gay and lesbian gamblers and travelers," he said. "They're doing it with entertainment - Ricky Martin and Melissa Etheridge and Wanda Sykes. Some are doing it by hosting gay travel media from Philadelphia and New York."

But Prohibition, and the concurrent opening of the female-impersonation celebrity revue "Believe - Divas in a Man's World" in the 13th-floor Screening Room, signal the first time a casino is pitching that demographic on an ongoing basis.

The club is nothing less than "a game-changer," offered Guaracino, whose day job is vice president of communications for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., Philadelphia's chief tourism office.

Resorts "did a very smart thing: They took an underutilized portion of their [property] and turned it into a revenue-generator that would be of interest to gays and lesbians and their straight friends," he said. "It's the first [concept] in Atlantic City that matches what gay and lesbian travelers are specifically looking for. It's not that they were looking for gay slot machines . . . or a gay Atlantic Ocean."

Not that the gay audience is a new one for the seaside resort town. Historical research suggests gay bars first appeared in Atlantic City during the 1920s (not coincidentally, the era of Prohibition). And for decades, New York Avenue was well-known by the East Coast's gay population as the place to be in AyCee.

But none of that matters much to those who have availed themselves of Prohibition's amenities, which include a balcony offering great views as well as a place for smokers. The important thing, they suggested, is that there is now an Atlantic City casino that has included them it its marketing strategies.

"I can't say enough" about Prohibition, enthused Rick Hern, 55, a Galloway Township resident and member of the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance. "Just to have a place to go to be with friends and feel comfortable is great."

Hern emphasized the diverse nature of the club's clientele, which clearly includes straights as well as gays. "I think the reason they call it a 'gay club' is so [straight people] won't be shocked when they get there," he reasoned.

Birthday girl Arikh used multiple adjectives to describe Prohibition. "I would say it's unique, modern, upscale, fun and exciting," said the Northeast Philly resident. "The staff is friendly, and it's a very laid-back, relaxed atmosphere."

Those sentiments are sure to please Gomes and Ballesteros, but it's what Tedder pledged that may be the best music of all to their ears.

Although the two have been loyal Borgata customers for some time, Prohibition has caused them to rethink their preference. Resorts, promised Tedder, "is gonna be our No. 1 spot!"

Prohibition, Resorts Atlantic City, Boardwalk at North Carolina Avenue, 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Sunday, admission free with Resorts players club card (available at the door), 800-336-6378, resortsac.com.

"This" is Prohibition, the not-quite-2-month-old danceteria that is the first gay nightclub in an Atlantic City casino.

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