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NJ’s Atlantic Club Casino Hotel Nears Final Hours

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Customers and employees at the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel spent a last few hours Sunday at the casino, which was to close just after midnight, the victim of the casino saturation taking place in the Northeast.

About 1,600 people will lose their jobs at 12:01 a.m. Monday as the 33-year-old casino closes its doors.

Struggling for years against newer, bigger casinos in Atlantic City and in neighboring states, the Atlantic Club sought a buyer for the last few years but was unable to attract one. It filed for bankruptcy in November and was sold for a combined $23.4 million just before Christmas to two competitors who will strip it for parts and close it down. Tropicana Entertainment bought the table games, slot machines and customer lists, while Caesars Entertainment bought the 801-room hotel, for which it has no immediate plans.

“I never thought it would end this way,” veteran cocktail server Catherine Irizarry said last month on the day the bankruptcy sale was finalized. “I came here from Caesars when it was the Golden Nugget because it was the hot place to work. I never thought it would go down. It’s sad.”

The Atlantic Club opened in December 1980 as the Golden Nugget, owned at the time by casino magnate Steve Wynn. It soon became Atlantic City’s top-earning casino, and its TV commercials featured Wynn bringing fresh towels to Frank Sinatra, who often performed there.

But over the years, as the Atlantic City casino market expanded, the casino changed hands several times and went through a handful of names: The Grand, Bally’s Grand, the Atlantic City Hilton, ACH and finally the Atlantic Club.

As newer casinos opened with 2,000 rooms and hot nightclubs, pools and spas, it was no longer so special. It lost market share to its local competitors, and the decline was hastened when the first Pennsylvania casino opened in 2006.

The Atlantic Club was more dependent than the others on convenience gamblers looking to play for a few hours, then drive or ride the bus back home. It struggled further as many of its best customers forsook it for gambling halls closer to their houses.

Its owners, Colony Capital LLC, a Los Angeles hedge fund, paid more than a half billion dollars for it in 2005.

It searched in vain for a purchaser for the past three years, before inking a deal in December 2012 to sell itself to the PokerStars website for $15 million. But that deal fell apart within months because of concerns over whether the website’s management could qualify for a casino license in New Jersey amid an unresolved indictment against the company’s founder.

Steve Norton, a former Atlantic City casino executive and current casino consultant, said the Atlantic Club closing will benefit the market by removing unneeded capacity, and the excessive discounting that he said was helping to keep it afloat. He said Atlantic City should brace for additional casino closures, particularly if gambling is allowed to expand to the northern New Jersey Meadowlands in the next several years.

“This is very unfortunate for the several thousand employees, whose families rely on their casino jobs, but those with gaming training may find a new opportunity, if Meadowlands gaming is approved in the future,” he said. “The Atlantic Club’s casino may be the first, but probably not the last.”

Cocktail server Ursula Moralski, who has worked at the casino since the day it opened, said the casino’s struggles were evident.

“We’ve seen it coming, but we’re still shocked it’s actually happening,” she said. “It’s sad. I’ve been here half my life.”

Annette Flack said she and all her co-workers asked to work one last day together Sunday.

“I don’t care if we make $2,” she said last month. “We want to go out together.”

Added food server Lisa Schaper: “Everyone said they wanted to come to work.”

As of Monday morning, Atlantic City will have 11 casinos.

“We didn’t have the glitz and glamour of the other casinos,” said Anne Marie DiLella, a cocktail server since the casino’s first day. “But the customers all knew us. It was like ‘Cheers': Everybody knew your name.”

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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