Co-owner of Resorts Casino Hotel Dies

Dennis Gomes, co-owner of an Atlantic City casino and whose story inspired a hit movie, is dead

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC Philadelphia
    Dennis Gomes, co-owner of Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, died Thursday morning.

    Dennis Gomes, co-owner of Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City and a former mob-busting prosecutor in Las Vegas, whose exploits were chronicled in the movie ``Casino,'' has died, a casino spokeswoman said Friday. He was 68.

    Resorts spokeswoman Courtney Birmingham said Gomes died overnight Thursday of undetermined causes. He died at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, a hospital spokeswoman said, declining to release further details.

    Gomes and New York real estate magnate Morris Bailey bought Resorts in August 2010 and saved the struggling casino from shutting down.

    Gomes had a long career in the casino industry, with management jobs at the Tropicana Casino and Resort (where he famously turned a tic-tac-toe-playing chicken into a top draw), Trump Taj Mahal Casino and Resort, the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, and Hilton Nevada's properties. And his tenure as Nevada's top casino corruption investigator was chronicled in the 1995 Martin Scorsese film ``Casino.''

    ``Dennis was a great friend and a great executive,'' said Donald Trump. ``He was my top executive at the Taj Mahal and he did a tremendous job. Everybody liked him and respected him. This is just so shocking.''

    His death rocked the Atlantic City casino industry, where Gomes was beloved by fellow executives and industry bigs. His co-owner, New York real estate magnate Morris Bailey, pledged to continue carrying out Gomes policies at the casino.

    ``Dennis was a man of integrity who embraced all who knew him with respect and love,'' Bailey said. ``We have not only lost a business partner who was an industry leader and visionary; we have lost a friend and family member. We are committed to continuing Dennis' vision for Resorts and Atlantic City, and our success will be a tribute to his memory.''

    Daniel Heneghan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, who knew Gomes for decades, said he always wanted to own a casino in Atlantic City.

    ``Dennis may have gotten his start in the industry in Nevada, but his heart clearly was in Atlantic City,'' Heneghan said. ``My heart breaks for his family and all the people at Resorts.''

    Employees at Resorts were stunned by the death as well.

    ``Dennis was truly the most giving, gracious and kind-hearted human being,'' said Nicholas Moles, vice president and general counsel of the casino. ``Everyone who knew him loved him. We are all blessed to have worked with him, to call him our friend and to be part of his family.  We are devastated by this loss and our prayers are with the Gomes family during this time. We are committed to continuing Dennis' vision for Resorts.''

    Gomes was famous for bizarre schemes to attract free publicity to his casinos. While running Atlantic City's Tropicana, he pitted a live chicken against customers in games of tic-tac-toe.

    To promote a casino in Indiana, he hired a Barack Obama look-and-sound-alike to urge gamblers to bring their ``change'' to the gambling hall. That earned him a rebuke from the White House, and oodles of free publicity.

    It was no different at Resorts. Gomes erected a billboard showing a dancer's naked rear end to promote a stage show, leading to a court battle with the state's transit agency, which owned the billboard location.

    He staged an adults-only big top show called ``The Naked Circus,'' and opened the first gay nightclub in an Atlantic City casino.

    After HBO's ``Boardwalk Empire,'' the TV series based on Prohibition-era Atlantic City's political and vice rackets, started taking audiences by storm, Gomes decided to re-brand the casino, whose hotel is an authentic 1920s edifice, to cash in on interest in the show and Atlantic City's shady past. A key part of the new image was new skimpy flapper costumes that female beverage servers were made to wear.

    Servers had to audition and be photographed in their new outfits; those deemed insufficiently sexy were fired. That decision, along with the pay cuts, spurred three separate lawsuits, one of which is being pushed by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, alleging age and sex discrimination. The suits are pending.

    Gomes, who lived in Margate, just south of Atlantic City, was a martial arts expert who was diligent about exercise.

    ``No one ever worked out harder than Dennis Gomes,'' Trump recalled. ``He'd do it two, three hours a day. He was always extremely physically fit.''

    He wore a back brace recently after breaking his back trying to catch a falling marble table top.

    Gomes worked tirelessly to try to turn Resorts around. He and Bailey bought the casino for $31.5 million, a fraction of the $140 million former owners Colony Capital LLC paid for it in 2001. Colony walked away from the casino in 2009 after losing money for years and failing to find a buyer.

    In an interview in December 2011, Gomes told The Associated Press that Resorts was still losing money, although its cash-paying businesses, food and beverage sales, and hotel rooms, was up 40 percent over its level from a year ago.

    For all of 2010, Resorts lost $18.5 million.