Mayor preaches hope as A.C. faces thousands of layoffs

City native John King listens to Mayor Don Guardian. "Atlantic City has gone though bad times before," he said. "But this is real bad."
City native John King listens to Mayor Don Guardian. "Atlantic City has gone though bad times before," he said. "But this is real bad." (ED HILLE / staff Photographer)
Posted: August 31, 2014

ATLANTIC CITY - As his city faced the first of casino layoffs expected to number in the thousands in the next few weeks, Mayor Don Guardian put the best spin he could Friday on the dire circumstances.

"We've been down before, but we've always come back up," said Guardian, standing out among tourists in a beige suit, a blue shirt, and his signature bow tie.

Just like a salesman hawking his wares - in this case, his city - Guardian took to the Boardwalk outside the Landshark Bar & Grill, part of the year-old Margaritaville dining and entertainment complex owned by Resorts.

With the looming closures, Guardian said he chose the location because it was proof that a smaller gambling hall can thrive with the right nongaming attractions.

Tiny Resorts, the city's first casino, which opened on May 26, 1978, is showing year-over-year profitability and had one of its best summers, its president and chief executive officer, Mark Giannantonio, said in a conference call this week.

But such bright spots are few these days, and the Republican mayor, who took office Jan. 1, was out to thwart what he predicted would be an avalanche of negative news this weekend - starting with Sunday's closing of the Mardi Gras-theme Showboat casino, followed by the closing of Revel's hotel Monday and its casino floor Tuesday. Trump Plaza will close Sept. 16.

Layoffs from Showboat, Revel, and Trump Plaza are expected to total about 6,500, or roughly a fifth of Atlantic City's casino workforce. Caesars Entertainment Inc. said that more than 470 of the 2,068 Showboat workers had found jobs at other Caesars operations, mostly in Atlantic City.

"Listen, we know 6,000 families will be impacted by the casino closures," Guardian said. "My administration is working with the union [Unite Here Local 54], faith-based organizations, and the state to be there to offer them assistance. No doubt, this is a very difficult time."

Guardian said an employee resource center would open for two weeks, starting Wednesday, at the Atlantic City Convention Center to offer help in finding jobs.

Gaming analysts say Atlantic City, a victim of competition from too many new East Coast casinos, must close some of its gambling halls to match waning demand.

"It's a shame. I just don't want the whole Boardwalk to disappear," said Adam Sanders, 29, a special ed teacher from Queens. "I love it here, with the beach bars, amusement park, the whole experience."

Sanders is staying three nights this week at Revel for his summer vacation.

"It's beautiful. It's huge," he said of Revel and its 1,400-room hotel. "Too bad it won't be here when I come back next summer."

Further down the Boardwalk, standing outside the Trump Taj Mahal, were Gina Ohlmeyer, 55, and her boyfriend, Louis Barbato, 60, both of Boonton.

The couple, who had a "comped," or free, room at Harrah's, stopped at Revel and Showboat on Friday to play the slots "one last time," said Ohlmeyer, who lost her job as a mortgage underwriter six months ago.

"It's sad," she said. "I can relate with the casino employees. The economy is affecting everyone."

After Showboat, Revel, and Trump Plaza close, the city will be left with eight operating casinos. The Atlantic Club closed on Jan. 13.

Guardian said he hoped at least two of the four closed casinos would reopen as hotels because the city needs rooms.

"I am hoping buyers will come forward and repurpose the properties," he said, "and by next Memorial Day, they will be open for business again."

Among those listening to Guardian was Atlantic City native John King, who gives free walking tours of the Boardwalk. Wearing a plastic chain bound with black-and-white city pictures around his neck, King, 60, looked like a walking billboard for Atlantic City. He also wore buttons pinned to his shirt with city images.

"Atlantic City has gone though bad times before," he said. "But this is real bad. We've had layoffs before, but never like this all at once."


sparmley@phillynews.com

856-779-3928 @SuzParmley

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