Atlantic City's second casino opened today with none of the fanfare of the first, but with the same hopes of millions in profits from an industry that shows no sign of suffering from the nation's economic troubles.
The Boardwalk Regency, a rebuilt Howard Johnson's whose orange roof tiles have been replaced by garish gold paneling appropriate to the gambling fever, opened its doors at 5 p.m. Within 15 minutes most of its available gambling tables were full.
Gibb Jones, 52, a senior bell captain at the casino-hotel, was chosen to make the first bet. Jones, an Atlantic City native who worked for Howard Johnson's before it became the Boardwalk Regency, put $100 on the baccarat table.
It was the beginning of his gambling career, Jones said, and it ended fast when the other hand turned up a natural eight and his chips were swept away into the casino's treasury.
The new casino, owned by Caesars World Inc., means that Resorts International's year-old casino is no longer the only game in town.
In its first year plus six days of gambling, Resorts had gross winnings of $224,566,620. Its daily win in May averaged $662,000, and it has been the most profitable casino in the world almost since its first day.
Gambling industry experts believe Caesars and the other casinos to follow will be splitting an ever-larger pie. Resorts' casino floor is jammed almost every minute during the 18 hour days - 20 hours on weekends - of gambling permitted by New Jersey law.
Casino operators talk of an annual Atlantic City win of well over a billion dollars when there is enough table space to accommodate the gamblers.
The new casino opened only about one-quater of its capacity today because it lacks enough trained and licensed people to run all the tables for two full shifts.
It is operating, as Resorts did at first, under a temporary license, and must go before the Casino Control Commission within nine months to obtain the permanent right to run a casino in Atlantic City.
Caesars World agreed to the commission's requirement that Clifford Perlman, Caesars' chairman, step aside from the New Jersey casino because of questions about his alleged association with organized-crime figures.
At the last minute, the company scrapped plans for an opening ceremony involving New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne and Caesars' officials. Caesars' president, William McElnea Jr., chose to skip the ceremony today, but he will hold a large party July 10, when he had already scheduled a gala for bankers and others who helped put together the new $75 million casino-hotel.
When in full operation, the Boardwalk Regency will have 55,000 square feet of casino space with 95 gambling tables and 1,431 slot machines, including 29 designed for the handicapped.
Atlantic City turned to casinos to save itself from urban decay in an age that appreciated horses and riders diving from the Steel Pier into the sea and assorted Boardwalk taffy, T-shirt and pinball shops less than it did beaches where the public could find the sea without the sleaze.
The first year of the gambling era has brought mixed results.
William Eames, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, can rattle off statistics on new jobs and money being spent on new construction.
About 10,000 jobs have been added - almost 4,000 at Resorts, 3,500 at the Boardwalk Regency and about 2,000 in laundries, food suppliers and other businesses catering to the casinos, Eames said.
A year ago the net assessed value of all of Atlantic City's buildings was $289 million. It's up to $510 million now, and $1.5 billion construction is under way or on the drawing board, Eames said.
For all that, Eames said he isn't sure whether the referendum that legalized casinos here would pass if it were put to Atlantic City voters again.
"If you're a renter, your rents have escalated. If you were living right by the ocean for $100 a month, you've gotten an eviction notice. If you're a merchant on the boardwalk, your rent may well have tripled," he said.
Israel Moses is certain that Atlantic City residents would defeat casinos if they had a second chance. Moses is deputy director of Atlantic Human Resources, a publicly financed organization to aid the poor, and has opposed casinos from the start.
Moses sees Atlantic City becoming a company town in which only the large landowners, most of them casino companies, strike it rich and the poor do not share in the wealth.
In fact, during the year Resorts had the only game in town, Atlantic City was like two cities. One, comprising the casino and the shops and other businesses closest to it, did well. In the rest of the 12 square miles, more than half of it marshland, that make up Atlantic City, the waves of dollars passing over green felt caused hardly a ripple.
Atlantic City's gambles apparently don't stray very far from where the action is. Shops just a few blocks down the Boardwalk complained that their business was worse last summer than the year before.