Atlantic City's newest casinos threw open their doors to gamblers Wednesday a day earlier than scheduled.
The previously shuttered Hard Rock and the Ocean Resort Casino were supposed to open Thursday, but both received permission Wednesday afternoon from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to begin full operations, and both immediately started letting gamblers inside.
Both properties still plan elaborate grand openings Thursday.
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David Rebuck, director of the gaming enforcement division, said Hard Rock was cleared for full operations as of 3 p.m., and Ocean Resort as of 5:45 p.m. Both wasted little time letting gamblers inside _ even as they pleaded for people to come to their scheduled grand openings on Thursday.
"I am holding the certificate in my hand, and I couldn't be happier," Bruce Deifik, Ocean Resort's owner, told The Associated Press.
"We are open for business and everyone is welcome right now,'' added Frank Leone, the casino's CEO.
Hard Rock, in particular, did not want to take away from the impact of its Thursday grand opening, which will include celebrities and a mass guitar smashing on the Boardwalk before noon.
"People are already coming through the doors," said Todd Moyer, Hard Rock's senior vice president of marketing. "Our official grand opening is tomorrow and we are still working toward it, but the heavy lifting has been done. I liken it to 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' on cable, where the things they get done in the last few hours are amazing."
Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, was walking the casino floor, checking on how things were going. Here and there, ladders were hidden behind plastic sheeting where work was still not quite finished. Work was continuing into the night on a hotel tower, but Allen said that on the whole, "We're pretty happy with where we are right now.''
Atlantic City now has nine casinos; it had 12 before 2014.
The Hard Rock is the former Trump Taj Mahal, and Ocean Resort is the former Revel.
They were two of the five Atlantic City casinos that had shut down since 2014. Together, they will restore about 6,000 of the 11,000 jobs that were lost in the shutdowns.
Tom Fortunato, of Lynbrook, New York, came to Atlantic City not knowing the Hard Rock had opened early, and simply wandered inside.
"It looks great,'' said Fortunato, who said he visited the Trump Taj Mahal "more times than I want to admit.''
"It's incredible what they did with it," he said.
One striking thing on the casino's very first night: the absence of any noticeable cigarette smell, with the casino only hours old.
"It's really light and fresh in here,'' said Paul Wolowski, of Hicksville, New York. "It even smells good in here.''
Those who remember the heavy-handed decorating taste of Donald and Ivana Trump from the Taj Mahal days won't recognize the place: The row after row of chandeliers dominating the view as patrons would ride the main escalator down to the casino floor are gone, supplanted by a giant silver illuminated guitar suspended from the ceiling. Video screens surrounding the escalators play clips of Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Nirvana and Johnny Cash as customers descend to the casino floor.
Music memorabilia is everywhere, from gowns worn by Stevie Nicks and Whitney Houston to guitars played by Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Katy Perry. There's a leather stage outfit worn by Aerosmith lead guitarist Joe Perry.
There's even a New Jersey memorabilia room, including the handwritten lyrics to "Dreaming" by Blondie's Debbie Harry (a Hawthorne native,) along with stuff from Bon Jovi, Wyclef Jean, Southside Johnny, and a Western Union telegram confirming a $20,000 payment for Ray Charles to perform a concert on Atlantic City's Steel Pier in 1978.