Resorts International starts some very high rolling today when it attempts to persuade New Jersey's Casino Control Commission to let it keep its Atlantic City money-making machine.
Rading with Resorts' hopes are the prayers of Atlantic City's poliitical and business establishment, which decided years ago that gambling was the best way to buy their down-at-the-heels Boardwalk town a new pair of shoes.
Since New Jersey voters authorized casino gambling in Atlantic City in 1976, the boom and expectations of ever greater boom have had civic leaders talking with the pride of new parents describing their infant.
"We've got a Monopoly game going here with real money," William Cowart of the Chamber of Commerce says. Cowart and others joyfully give all comers the demographic good news: "There are 50 million people within one tank of gas."
They are also not-so-quietly pround of Resorts' winings, which have averaged more than $630,000 a day since its casino opened May 26.
Resorts has been taking in money about three times as fast as a Las Vegas casino of the same size. It put in about $40 million and has grossed more than $125 million in seven months -- making money as though there were no tomorrow.
State Attorney General John J. Degnan last month raised exactly that possibility -- that there would be no tomorrow. In a report that added fear to the mixture of excitement and greed along the Atlantic City Board-work, New Jersey's Division of Gaming Enforcement recommended that Resorts be denied a permanent casino license because of questionable activities in the Bahamas and New Jersey.
Resorts president I. G. Davis reacted with an apocalyptic and hyperbolic appeal to Atlantic City leaders, many of whom have seen a friend or two prosper since Resorts came to town.
"If our cause should fail, the cause of Atlantic City is destined to fail," Davis said
His implication was that if Resorts, which has been operating on a temporary license, cannot pass muster in New Jersey, other companies with gambling backgrounds -- Bally, Caesar's World, Penthouse, Playboy and Harrah's -- awaiting their turn won't qualify either.
Davis' outrage ignores companies seeking their first casino experience in Atlantic City -- Ramada Inns, Holiday Inns, Great Bay Hotel and Casino of Somers Point, N.J., and Hi Ho Enterprises of Bridgeport, Conn.
It also negelects to consider that while Resorts could lose its casino, no action the Control Commission can take will close it. The commission can find Resorts clean and give it a license beyond the Feb. 26 expiration of its present temporary one, or it can find Resorts an unsuitable casino operator for New Jersey and the casino will be turned over to a conservator who will arrange its sale. Resorts will collect the proceeds of the sale.
The impact of the attorney general's negative report has been hard to measure. Resorts stock plummeted and trading was suspended for a short time, but enthusiasm for the stock quickly revived.
In fact, Resorts stock rose 10 points in two days after the commission found it guilty of mismanagement and ordered a fine. Apparently, investors were impressed that the commission did not agree with the attorney general's representative that Resorts had deliberately misled the commission rather than simply bungled.
Atlantic City officials and organizers seeking financing of their casinos say the attorney general's negative recommendation has made potential investors shakier. But investors have been shaky from the beginning of Atlantic City's boom. Financing difficulties have slowed most would-be casino developers.
On the other hand, Holiday Inns, Ramada Inns and Hi Ho all filed their applications and non-returnable $100,000 deposits after the attorney general's report. Construction for Caesar's World, which hopes to open Atlantic City's second casino in late spring or summer, has not paused, and Bally last week dynamited the old Blenheim Hotel dome to make way for its giant casino.
The commission, in hearings expected to last four weeks, will decide whether Resorts smells of corruption. Whatever that decision, the odor of greed is unmistakable. Resorts pushed the commission for less effective, less expensive electronic survillance of the casino floor and for higher and higher minimum bets.
Commissioner Albert Merck has repeatedly called Resorts greedy and has hammered away at hearings in an effort to preserve some space at Resorts' tables for smaller bettors. No casino anywhere in the world so discourages the small better.
The economics are simple. A $2 or $5 better playing while a bigger bettor waits for a chair is a financial loss. The odds at each game bring the house a steady percentage of the amount bet. The larger that amount, the more a casino keeps.
In the largest American casino, the MGM Grand in Reno, four of 106 blackjack tables have minimum bets of $25 or more. In Resorts, 65 percent of the tables start at $25.
"I'm wildly prejudiced in favor of profitable businesses," Merck says, "but the law says gambling is aimed at increasing tourism and convention business. Tourism doesn't depend on a small group of big bettors."
The commission's role is to see that while a casino makes a profit it doesn't profiteer, Merck says, and "Resorts has gone over the Line into profiteering."
Resorts' low-minimum tables are usually jammed. A bettor who doesn't want to wait his turn there has three choices -- all of them good for the casino.
He can leave. He can play over his head at a $25 table. He can play the slot machines or the big six wheel where the house edge is about 17 percent, far higher than at the table games.
The posture toward the small bettor -- or the average tourist -- in a city where Resorts has a monopoly might be likened to the posture of Resorts' corporate ancestor, Mary Carter Paint Co., toward its customers more than 20 years ago. "Buy one -- get one free" was the advertising slogan but, as the Federal Trade Commission demonstrated in forcing abandonment of the slogan, there was no such thing as a free can of Mary Carter paint.
The paint company became Resorts, and first got into the casino business in the Bahamas. Most of the 17 allegations against Resorts in the New Jersey report relate to connections with Meyer Lansky and other underworld figures in the Bahamas operations.
"If you go back far enough on IBM or General Electric maybe you'll find something distasteful," says William Downey, who represents an association formed by Resorts and other aspirants to casino licenses. His argument is a favorite with Resorts' supporters.
Resorts reacted to one allegation from the past when it suspended one of its executives, Seymour Alter, who has admitted trying to brisbe a New York judge in 1962 and paying prostitutes to entertain Bahamian officials.
The report objected to some more recent events, including the refusal of two banks which helped finance Resorts' entry into Atlantic City to allow inspectors to examine records of their dealings with the casino company. Both banks, the Bank of Nova Scotia (an offshore Bahamas bank) and the New York Bank of Commerce, have done business with Resorts for many years.
The commission will also hear about David Probinsky, who has a contract with Resorts for $30,000 a year plus stock options for 10 year. Probinsky will receive an additional $35,000 a year for 10 years and more options if Resorts gets its permanent Atlantic City license. The gaming division said Probinsky's only duty is to refrain from hurting Resorts by word or deed, suggesting that he is being paid to keep his mouth shut.
Resorts' rite of passage before the commission will be aided by Raymond A. Brown, the experienced trial lawyer who successfully defended Dr. Mario Jascalevich against multiple murder charges and whose subpoenas New York Times reporter M.A Farber went to jail rather than comply with. Resorts hired Brown after the, attorney general issued his report.
Some in Atlantic City wonder what role politics plays in the struggle over Resorts' license. All five commissioners were appointed by Gov. Brendan Byrne. Byrne told Atlantic City officials to shut up after headlines appeared saying they backed Resorts, but he didn't criticize Degnan for making a television appearance explaining the case against Resorts.
Will an appointed commission make a final decision at odds with the state Justice Department machinery's conclusions? Does the state really want to make an example of Resorts or is it only trying to look tough? Such questions are iloating around the gambling town.
If the politics of the Resorts case is murky, the economics of gambling has become clear to many in recent years. Companies that once shied from gambling because of fears that their other businesses could suffer are no longer shy.
Holiday Inns surveyed the scene from its Memphis headquarters and decided gambling taxes have become a more acceptable method to increase tax revenues than property taxes or income tax. With a little research, it found that 93 percent of its guests had no objection to Holiday being in the gaming business.
If that wasn't enough good news for a company tempted by the handsome profits of casino-hotels, Holiday found -- according to executive vice president M.D Rose -- that "a close look at visitors to Las Vegas arriving by air shows their profile to be very close to the Holiday Inn customer."
If the gambler and the Holiday Inn guest are homogenized in late 1970s America, small wonder that people get a little gredy and reach out for a piece of the house saction when they see those 50 million customers just a tankful away.