Bust to boom: Can strippers save gambling city?

2013-08-27 09:15
Atlantic City — What if, after seven years of plunging casino revenues and fleeing customers, Atlantic City's real problem was this: People are wearing too much clothing?

The first strip club inside an Atlantic City casino ever in 35 years of legal gambling is about to open in the New Jersey seaside town. Scores, the famous New York strip club, will open a satellite establishment inside the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort next month.

It will be the most audacious adult offering in an Atlantic City casino, though it's not the first: Revel has offered the Royal Jelly burlesque show since it opened, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa hosts a burlesque show every Thursday night, and dancers in bras and panties are common on gambling floors, including at the Tropicana Casino and Resort and the Showboat Casino Hotel.

"We feel this is the third leg of the Atlantic City triangle: gambling, alcohol and adult entertainment," said Bob Gans, the club's managing partner. "It's a natural."

Since 2006, when the first casino opened in Pennsylvania and began taking away business that had gone to New Jersey for three decades, Atlantic City has been struggling with new competition popping up all around it. Revenue has fallen from $5.2bn (R53bn at R10.34/dollar) that year to just over $3bn (R31bn) last year, and thousands of jobs have been lost in a decline that shows no signs of ending.

In addition to family-friendly attractions like a revamped Steel Pier amusement park, the return of the Miss America pageant and free outdoor light shows on Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City has been looking for other ways to separate people and their money. The seaside resort has a century-old reputation as an adult playground, so it's somewhat surprising it took this long for strippers to make their way inside the gambling halls.

Gans is investing $25m (R258m) in the newest Scores, which will open Sept. 12 with five private VIP rooms, 11 stripper poles and an ultra-VIP room for celebrities and high-rollers.

Cover charges will range from $10 to $30. The club's Diamond Dollars, which cash-strapped customers can charge to their credit cards, come with a steep 20 percent markup: $100 worth of club dollars costs $120.

Patrons and employees will have to behave; New Jersey laws governing casinos prohibit total nudity. In approving the club in December 2011, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement issued a ruling that bordered on an anatomy lesson, governing in explicit detail what can be shown and what needs to stay covered. In short, dancers may strip down only to a G-string and pasties, small fabric patches that cover the nipples. Lap dances are prohibited, as is any simulation of sexual activity.

While Las Vegas is known for its racy offerings, there are no strip clubs inside any Sin City casinos. Several offer topless stage shows and topless pools, and strip clubs regularly offer free transportation from anywhere near the Strip, including casinos.

One pool venture didn't fare as well. The Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino partnered with a strip club to run a topless pool at the casino, but the casino shut it down in 2009 after an undercover bust resulted in 11 arrests for various prostitution charges.

Gans is confident Scores will succeed, even in a city with four other strip clubs, including one with all-nude dancers.

"There are 30 million people who come to Atlantic City every year," he said. "You have the safety of a hotel casino, and we have the right brand and the know-how to do something that hasn't been done before. We can be the Pied Piper here."


Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia contributed to this story.


Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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