ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Hurricane Irene is forcing the third Atlantic City casino shutdown in 33 years.
Gov. Chris Christie said Friday that the casinos would have to close by noon Saturday.
Ten of the city’s 11 casinos had already announced plans to close by Friday night following a county directive that the resort city evacuate. The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa had not announced its plans prior to the governor’s declaration.
Since gambling was legalized in 1978, the only other times the resort closed were during Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and again for a state government shutdown in 2006.
Moments after Bill Wischuck put $20 into a slot machine early Friday at Resorts Casino Hotel, security officers came running over to him.
He hadn’t won a jackpot. They were there to tell him to cash out at once because the casino was closing.
“They all came running over saying, ‘You gotta get out! We’re shutting down!”’ said the 66-year-old retired crane operator from Coatesville, Md. “So we’re getting out of town.”
Resorts, the first to close, boarded up all its ground-floor windows with plywood. Workers also filled more than 400 sandbags to protect against possible flooding.
“We’re focused on trying to help everybody get back home,” said Resorts co-owner Dennis Gomes. “If anybody comes in, we tell them the casino is closed and that we are shutting down.”
Gomes estimated the lost weekend could cost his casino $3.5 million to $4 million in lost business at a time when Atlantic City’s casino industry is stuck in a yearslong revenue slump due to increased competition and a bad economy.
“We got kicked out,” said Livette Phillips of College Park, Md., as she dragged her rolling suitcase down the boardwalk. “We were OK last night, but at 5 o’clock this morning there was a notice under the door saying we had to get out. It’s time to go, so we’re going.”
At the Tropicana Casino and Resort, crews removed beach chairs and umbrellas from an outdoor storage shed Friday morning.
“We’re taking every precaution we can to secure the building and remove anything loose from outside the building and the roof, but it’s actually beautiful weather out right now,” president Tony Rodio said.
Gov. Chris Christie said Friday that the state would use the Sun Center mostly for people brought by New Jersey Transit buses from Atlantic City, where there are mandatory evacuations.
The governor urged people to go to the homes of friends or family members if they could and use shelters only as a last resort.
He said many of the people brought initially to the Sun Center will be moved to other shelters, including the Izod Center arena in East Rutherford.
A growing number of coastal communities have ordered mandatory evacuations, with Irene expected to bear down on New Jersey on Sunday.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)