Casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., aren't gambling with Hurricane Irene as the 11 resort properties shut their doors for only the third time in the city's history and prepare to face their biggest losses ever.
Trump, Caesars, Resorts, Tropicana, ACH and Golden Nugget are all voluntarily closing at 8 p.m. tonight, and all casinos must be closed by noon Saturday, according to a mandate by the governor's office. Atlantic County has also ordered the evacuation of the barrier island on which the casinos sit.
"Walking through the casino today it was a very eerie feeling," said Dennis Gomes, CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel. "To see all the slot machines turned off, the lights out, nobody there, it's horrible."
Gomes said his staff began shutting down the hotel Thursday night, and this morning made every effort to get guests off of the barrier island before the storm arrived.
"We actually secured everything last night. We left the slots going, but took all the money out, put the money in the bank, and then this morning we took all the chips and secured those in vaults, so all the money is secure," Gomes said. While most of his staff has already left the property, Gomes said security personnel and quite a few police officers, including state police, would remain on the property.
Performances at the hotels, including Frankie Valli, Donny Osmond, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, have all been canceled for the weekend.
Brian Cahill, a spokesman for Trump hotels and casinos, said that guests on the casino floor and in hotel rooms are being notified to leave the property as soon as possible, and employees will not have to report after 4 p.m. today. A small staff will remain at the hotel through the weekend to assist guests that cannot leave the hotel and to assist in the hotel's security plan, about which Cahill would not elaborate.
Lisa Spengler, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, said each casino has emergency plans that outline security measures for events like this, and that security will be a top priority for DGE this weekend. Inspectors and state police will remain in the city to ensure safety until a decision is made that they can no longer safely remain there, she said.
The casinos, which are typically open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, most recently closed down in 2006 during a budget impasse in the New Jersey government.The three-day shutdown put thousands of employees out of work, cost the casinos an estimated $16 million each day, and cost the state government an estimated $1.3 million a day in taxes, according to news reports from the time.
This weekend's shutdown could prove much worse for the casinos, Spengler said.
"During the budget shutdown, properties only had to close the casino floors. This will affect the whole city. This is really unprecedented, as to the magnitude of possible loss," Spengler said.
Spengler added that many resorts voluntarily closed during Hurricane Gloria, in 1985, but the loss this weekend is expected to be more significant.
Linda Gilmore, of the Atlantic County Emergency Operations Center, said that all residents and visitors had been asked to evacuate the barrier islands, including the stretch of casinos in Atlantic City, beginning today. Gilmore said the wind poses the greatest danger to Atlantic City, with downed wires posing the biggest threat to safety on the islands.
Gomes said the Resorts Casino Hotel, which was built in the 1920s, has walls that are three feet thick, and should withstand whatever Irene throws at the hotel.
"We boarded the windows facing the ocean and put the sandbags up at the doors," Gomes said. "We hope to reopen Monday, and hopefully have people come back and visit the resorts, and have post-hurricane party."
As the storm progresses through the weekend, all emergency personnel, including first responders, may leave the barrier island. People remaining behind would be stranded, Gilmore said.
All traffic flowing into Atlantic City will be stopped this afternoon, as the Atlantic City Expressway becomes a westbound-only roadway to help the evacuation, according to the governor's office. Tolls will be waived on the Atlantic City Expressway and the southern portion of the Garden State Parkways for people driving west and north away from the barrier island, according to the NJ Turnpike Authority.