Atlantic City – Cars streamed into Atlantic City on May 26, 1978, and people lined the Boardwalk for blocks, waiting to get inside the first casino outside Las Vegas on the first day it was legal to gamble there.
People bought tickets for buffets they had no intention of eating, just to sneak inside the casino earlier than the rest. Men relieved themselves into plastic coin cups to avoid losing their spot at the tables. And cash – more than anyone had ever seen and more than management could imagine – flooded into the counting room at Resorts International, to the point that it took nearly an entire day to count it.
Thirty years ago Monday, casino gambling began in Atlantic City with the opening of Resorts, and the city was changed forever. Tens of thousands of jobs were created, billions of dollars were invested, and New Jersey was on the national radar for vacationers and gamblers — even as the urban blight that preceded the casinos remained.
The 30th anniversary of what is now known as Resorts Atlantic City will be marked by a series of events this weekend, topped on Monday by skydivers jumping out of a plane trailing canisters of colored smoke, linking hands to form the number „30“ in mid-air.
On that first day, then-Gov. Brendan Byrne cautioned that his father always warned him never to bet on anything other than Notre Dame and the New York Yankees. He then declared the casino open.
„It was absolute pandemonium,“ recalled Steve Norton, who was Resorts‘ executive vice president when it opened. „The place filled up immediately; we had lines six abreast, stretching for blocks, just waiting to get in.“
Dan Heneghan, the spokesman for the state Casino Control Commission who covered the first day of gambling as a reporter for The Press of Atlantic City, recalled „the overwhelming crush of people.“
„There wasn’t a seat to be found,“ he said. „People waited for hours to play a slot machine. Everything at the property was overwhelmed by the crowds.“
The casino’s 6,000-person occupancy limit was reached quickly, and the line waiting to get inside lasted for days. State Police talked about shutting the city down by blocking the entrance highways if traffic got much worse.
Casino supervisor Allan Singer has been with Resorts since it opened. He recalls how packed the casino floor was not just on Day One, but for years afterward.
„They opened the doors and it was as if the floodgates had opened,“ said Singer, who was a craps dealer that first day. „They’d run down the steps to try to get a spot at a table or a slot machine. People would jump over railings to try to get there first.
There were senior citizens there that if someone would get sick or pass out and fall to the floor, two or three others would be right there ready to jump in and take their
The huge crowds hid some less savory conduct. Norton said that instead of going to a rest room — and losing their place at the gambling table — some men used plastic casino coin cups to relieve themselves. Others didn’t even bother to do that, urinating directly onto the carpet, he said.
Casino Control Commissioner Ralph G. Frulio, who worked as a state inspector at Resorts the day it opened, said he was amazed by how many people couldn’t wait to be parted from their money.
„I went onto the Boardwalk for my first break,“ he recalled. „All I saw was lines into the fog, stretching for blocks, waiting to come in to the casino. And that was at 3 a.m.“
The flood of cash flowing into the counting rooms that day was beyond anyone’s
„We only had three people for the counting room,“ he said. „When these boxes started coming in, we couldn’t believe how much money was streaming into that room. We had to call 12 of the dealers in to help us count it all. And it was all by hand. Nobody had ever seen that much money before.“
Singer said the amount of cash was daunting.
„In the slot booths, you’d literally be walking on money,“ he said. „The cash was coming in faster than we could handle it. The drums would overflow and spill onto the floor. There were unbelievable amounts of cash coming in there.“
It would be 23 1/2 hours before Resorts even knew how much money it took in that first day. The drop boxes – metal containers used to store cash taken in at the tables – were so jammed with money they couldn’t be emptied without someone reaching in and unclogging wads of bills.
The tally was nearly USD 600,000 for the first day, Norton said.
That figure has changed little over the last three decades; last month, Resorts averaged USD 720,000 a day. In contrast, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa took in more than USD 1.8 million a day last month.
The state eventually fined Resorts USD 250,000 for not counting its cash quickly enough. But that was chump change: in the 220 days it was open in 1978, Resorts took in USD 134 million. In 1979, the first full year it was open, the take was USD 232 million, making it the most profitable casino in the world.
People fortunate enough to stay at the hotel that day rented out their room keys to gamblers waiting to get inside the casino – for USD 10 a pop. And it cost $ 100 to persuade someone to relinquish a seat at a craps or blackjack table for the most impatient gamblers.
Norton also recalled an assumption many gamblers made that first day.
„We had all these adults abandoning their babies and strollers in the lobby, assuming our security would take care of them while they were gambling,“ he said with a chuckle. „We had to explain to them that’s not how it works.“