Resorts International today began its quest to establish publicly its good name and thereby retain control of its enormously successful Atlantic City casino.
Assistant New Jersey Attorney General G. Michael Brown told the opening hearing of the Casino Control Commission that Resorts lacks the "integrity, honesty and good reputation" required of casino owners by state law.
Resorts' chief attorney Raymond A. Brown, however, said the criticisms of Resorts are based on rumors, innuendos, events of the distant past and incidents irrelevant to the casino here.
Resorts needs to persuade at least four of the five commissioners of its virtue. If it cannot, it will be forced to watch helplessly as its Atlantic City bonanza -- with an average gross of $620,000 daily since it opened with a temporary license last May 26 -- is turned over to a conservator to be sold to a new owner deemed more worthy.
"We must not let our vision be blurred by financial success," Michael Brown said in making his opening attack on Resorts.
The Resorts attorney pledged, however, that the company can answer criticisms of it. He warned the commission that how it decides this first license case in New Jersey will "form the matrix in which all subsequent applications are considered."
Resorts has warned that dreams of remaking this decaying boardwalk town into a glittering gambling center could founder if standards are so strict they eliminate companies with gaming industry backgrounds.
Caesar's World, Bally Manufacturing Co., Penthouse and Playboy are among the other gambling companies planning casinos here.
In its defense, Resorts, whose temporary license expires Feb. 26, plans to stress the jobs and other economic benefits it has brought to Atlantic City and the tax revenues flowing from its casino.
As if to underline Resorts' claim, the commission distributed Resorts' just-released December tax statement during the hearing. On a gross of $133 million since it opened, the casino has paid more than $10 million to the state.
Raymond Brown began presenting Resorts' case as though he believed repetition made his arguments stronger. Over and over, he asserted that the 17 reasons New Jersey justice officials gave as a basis for their December recommendation that the license be denied were not charges or allegations. He preferred to call them notices.
Brown said the nature of some of these points "would ring strangely in American ears" since several involve apparently unproven rumors.
Michael Brown countered that "criminality is not a standard for" getting a license.
He added, referring to Resorts' payments to Bahamas officials in connection with its casino operations there, that "you cannot buy respectability."
After mentioning names of several shady characters with whom Resorts dealt in the Bahamas, the assistant attorney general said:
"You do not have to do business with people like that. You choose to."
He also urged the commission to consider that a Bahamian commission with similar duties had seen Resorts promise to obey, but secretly ignore, some of its orders.
The hearings, which are expected to last at least four weeks, opened with high-flying references to truth, integrity and good character, but drifted quickly down to more mundane talk.
A litany of interior decoration, sprinkler systems, sewers and Italianmade toilets was invoked for the record as Resorts officials sought to demonstrate the extent and the quality of their investment in Atlantic City.