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Las Vaguely

Then there's the glassed-in Gypsy Bar, which Vegas would be proud to call its own. Inside, the scene is raucous, with 30- and 40-somethings on their feet dancing to a live band and, inexplicably, high-fiving. Maybe it's the mojitos they're sucking down. On the other side of the glass, there's also dancing -- and no denying that the group's frontman is struggling with Prince's "Let's Go Crazy."

"Hey, he's pretty good," says a woman clutching a handbag and a free casino cocktail. "That's karaoke, isn't it?" No, that's the band. She shakes her head and ventures back toward the slot machine she briefly deserted.


Atlantic City's first new resort in 13 years, Borgata offers a coinless casino, above. (Borgata Hotel Photos)


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She has lots of company, but aside from the table games -- blackjack, craps, roulette, etc. -- the casino floor is oddly muted. Blame (or thank) the coinless slots the hotel has installed. That familiar plunking of filthy metal on filthy metal is no more: Stick a bill in, play the credits, and when you're done, fffffpttttt, out pops a ticket you can redeem for cash. It's fast, clean and boring.

The smog bank that's been building over the puffing horde is thickening. Must . . . have . . . fresh . . . air. And some Jersey pizza. You can get a $41 Kobe beef burger in Borgata's Old Homestead Steakhouse, but for a two-buck slice of pepperoni and a root beer, you have to head to the boardwalk, which is undergoing its own Borgatazation.

Nightclubs and lounges with live music have popped up everywhere; in Caesars, patrons are boogieing to "Disco Inferno" on the casino floor. It's not a pretty sight, but at least the slot-heads are getting some exercise. Nearby, the Ocean One mall, which juts into the Atlantic like a grounded cruise ship, is being refurbished. Many of the casinos are renovating existing space or building additions; next spring the Tropicana unveils the Quarter, a $245 million expansion featuring dining, retail, entertainment and a spa.

Even the palm readers ("Hey, you with the pizza. Let me tell you your future!") have spruced up their cubbyholes, and you can actually identify the tunes being played by street musicians. Outside the Boardwalk Hall, a saxophone player wails a soulful "Over the Rainbow."

At this moment, and in this city, that happens to be at the Borgata. It's after midnight, but the aisles are teeming, the bars packed. Another line has formed, this one creeping into the Metropolitan, a 24-hour cafe that's part French bistro, part diner.

About 2 a.m., the people-watching hits its zenith. Someone shouts, "There she is . . . Miss America!" A murmur arises from the slot-bound, who've been poring over their machines like air traffic controllers tracking 737s over Newark. Miss Florida's family and friends, who are staying in the hotel, advance around the edges of the gaming area, a crown poking out from the middle of the pack.

Cameras flash, then the din subsides. Back to gambling.

Finally, a couple of seats open at the B Bar. The little black dresses and sport coats have given way to tattoos and body piercings, the chardonnay to shots. The video poker machines -- coinless -- embedded in the bar are all in use. Springsteen's "Born to Run," piped into the casino, is drowning out ESPN on the overhead TVs.

A couple of blondes motion to their pal the bartender, who's been mixing a batch of martinis for two conventioneers who've neglected to take off their name tags.

"Where you going after this?"

After this? It's 3:30 in the morning. There's now an "after this" in Atlantic City. And that's a big freakin' deal.

Escapes Key

GETTING THERE: Driving to Atlantic City takes about three hours. Take I-95 north to the Jersey Turnpike to Exit 3 and follow the signs to the Atlantic City Expressway. Amtrak offers service from D.C., via Philly; off-peak fares start at about $110 round trip. Greyhound starts at $53 round trip.

STAYING THERE: Choices at Borgata include "classic" rooms, with showers-for-two and beds wrapped in 300-count sheets, and suites, with amenities like soaking tubs and wet bars. Weekend rates start at $249 double but can go much higher, and the Sunday-Thursday tariff is $179 and up. If you can, stay Saturday at a lower-priced chain hotel outside town, then splurge Sunday night. Info: 866-692-6742, www.theborgata.com.

EATING THERE: Lots of options, lots of ways to spend big bucks. Interestingly, most of the offerings ring the casino floor, so they're easy to find. Choices include celeb chef Susanna Foo's Suilan, where the French-Chinese cuisine will set you back about $120 for two. The Old Homestead Steakhouse, a branch of the New York stalwart, features beef -- and lots of it. The menu features an eye-popping $98 Kobe beef entree, though dinner is generally $150 for two. Go Italian at chef Luke Palladino's two local offerings: Ombra (dinner for two runs about $125) or Specchio (about $140, plus taxes, tip and drinks). The Metropolitan is the resort's 24-hour cafe, where you can get everything from pancakes to fresh oysters; breakfast for two is about $20. The Borgata Buffet is a pretty standard gorgefest, though the dining room is a beaut; dinner is $24 per person.

PLAYING THERE: The clubs and lounges -- Mixx ($20 cover after 10 p.m.), B Bar and Gypsy Bar -- generally rock until 1 a.m. or so on weekdays, 3 a.m. or later on weekends. The casino, of course, is open 24/7.

At Spa Toccare, services include massages (from $85), facials (from $85), baths (from $65) and treatments geared specifically toward men, including the Classic Man Body ($95) with a Tri-Crystal Microdermabrasion Scrub. Women can gussy up at the Pierre & Carlo Salon, where cuts start at $40; men can grab a $40 shave and haircut at the Shaving Grace barbershop (complete with pool table) .

INFO: Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, 888-228- 4748, www.atlanticcitynj.com.


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