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Forced Casino Closing by State Today Is First for East’s Gaming Industry

May 22, 1989

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ Roulette wheels came to rest and the last card was turned onto the blackjack felt at Elsinore’s Atlantis Casino Hotel today as it became the first New Jersey casino closed under state order.

When dealer Stan Kowal dealt his last hand at 3:47 a.m., more state gaming regulators were in the casino than customers, and gamblers were saying ″Good luck″ to Atlantis employees.

The state Casino Control Commission last week determined the gaming hall’s $144 million debt was too big a risk to the industry’s integrity to allow continued play on Atlantis’ three-tiered casino floor.

Only subtle signs indicated casino employees were working their last shift. A blackjack dealer taped a small ″Goodbye″ note to his table, and some floor supervisors wore black-tinged carnations.

At the craps table, Larry Fishman threw out the last set of dice.

″I enjoyed myself here for seven years,″ he said. ″I wanted to do it for sentimental reasons, I guess.″

Atlantis has been plagued with financial problems since 1981, when it opened as the Playboy Hotel & Casino.

In November 1985, Atlantis filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but when a reorganization plan was finally implemented in September 1988, the losses continued to mount.

The state Division of Gaming Enforcement, the arm of the state attorney general’s office that polices the industry, reported that the Atlantis was losing money at the rate of $56,000 a day.

At the division’s recommendation, the commission voted in April not to renew Atlantis’ regular casino license and appointed a conservator.

At least 1,000 of the hotel’s 2,000 workers are affected by the casino closing.

Near the slot machines, mechanics gathered to console each other this morning.

″Ordinarily, we’d be fixing machines, but it doesn’t matter now,″ said one mechanic who would identify himself only as John. ″It took me a year and a half to get this job, and now I’m out looking again.″

The fate of the casino rests in the hands of the casino commission. Although developer Donald Trump has an agreement to purchase the place from Elsinore Corp. for $63 million, the state-appointed conservator, Joseph M. Nolan, has recommended that Trump’s agreement be rejected.

Nolan argued that the deal was signed after he was in place as conservator, and that higher bids have been made.

He also suggested that Trump, who already owns two casinos and is building a third, would wield too much economic power if he bought the Atlantis and converted it into a luxury non-casino hotel as planned.

The Atlantis closing does not necessarily mark the end of the legalized gambling ″experiment″ to rejuvenate the decaying resort, said Marvin B. Roffman, a gaming analyst with the Philadelphia investment house of Janney Montgomery Scott Inc.

But it does forewarn of other impending closures, he said.

″They’d better get used to these failures,″ he said. ″There’s going to be a bunch of them, simply because the casino industry is so strung out now on debt. Last year’s debt was over $2 billion, and this year’s will be even higher.″

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