Rebounding from a losing streak, Atlantic City celebrates two new casinos

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Celebrities and VIPs smash guitars as part of the grand opening celebration at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City Thursday. Movie stars lent an air of celebrity glitz to the gritty seaside gambling resort as two of its shuttered casinos reopened with more than 6,000 of the 11,000 jobs it lost during a brutal stretch of casino shutdowns. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

Celebrities and VIPs smash guitars as part of the grand opening celebration at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City Thursday. Movie stars lent an air of celebrity glitz to the gritty seaside gambling resort as two of its shuttered casinos reopened with more than 6,000 of the 11,000 jobs it lost during a brutal stretch of casino shutdowns. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

A few years ago, five Atlantic City casinos closed down, thousands of people lost their jobs, and the state took over the city’s finances.

But on Thursday, city officials and business leaders were hailing what they called a bright spot in Atlantic City’s recovery: the grand opening of two new casinos on the same day.

“We believe this project will create a new renaissance in the future, the expansion, the excitement of Atlantic City, [which is] going back to being one of the great entertainment cities in the United States,” said Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and the Ocean Resort Casino both hosted festivities Thursday to officially open their doors to gamblers and hotel guests.

The Ocean Resort Casino is located in the building that formerly held the failed Revel casino.

The Hard Rock will open in what used to be the Trump Taj Mahal, which closed down in 2016 after a bitter dispute with workers.

“This is a step in history for us,” said Marcellus Osceola, chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which bought Hard Rock International‘s chain of casinos, cafes, and hotels in 2006.

“This is something that no tribe has ever done before,” he said of the opening of the new Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City. “We’re paving the way for other Native Americans to do the same thing.”

According to company officials, Hard Rock spent more than $500 million to renovate the property and now employs about 3,900 workers there. Ocean Resort Casino brought thousands of jobs back to the city, too.

“The beauty of what we’re experiencing right now is something that, three or four years ago, we weren’t even in the running [for],” said Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam.

Crowds packed into the casinos Thursday morning after a quiet opening the night before, eager for front-row seats to the ceremonies and ready to test out the new games of chance at each property.

Derrell Hammond of Sicklerville, New Jersey, left the Hard Rock winless. He said he liked what the new owners have done with the building, but he was heading up the Boardwalk to check out the new Ocean Resort Casino as well.

“Hopefully, I’m a winner today,” Hammond said, “go home a millionaire.”

Although the openings are a boon to Atlantic City’s tourism industry, many small businesses across the city are hoping the good fortune will trickle down to them.

“Our business is not dependent on the casinos. Our business is dependent on families,” said Nabeel Azeem, who helps run his family’s gift shop on the boardwalk.

Azeem said the city ought to invest in attracting more families, who he believes are more likely to patronize boardwalk businesses than people who come to Atlantic City solely to gamble.

Nevertheless, Azeem said he was glad the two casinos were opening in Atlantic City, and he’s hoping they help add even a little bit of revenue to his bottom line.

“Since Hard Rock and the Ocean Resorts came, we hope business will be a little better,” he said. “It is always hope in life.”

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