That’s what Dennis Gomes, co-owner of Resorts Casino Hotel, has to show for his first year running New Jersey’s oldest casino, the first one in America to open outside Nevada.
He gives himself a grade of B-plus.
On Dec. 6, 2010, Gomes, a veteran casino executive and former mob-busting investigator in Las Vegas, and New York real estate investor Morris Bailey bought Resorts, which was within days of having to close because it had run out of money.
The decisions Gomes says he had to make to keep the casino open and save the jobs of nearly 2,000 workers are the ones that are still causing him the most grief a year later.
The pair bought Resorts 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.
The first thing Gomes did was slash expenses, mostly payroll. Workers were all made to reapply for their jobs. Ultimately, more than 200 were laid off, and nearly 500 others had their pay cut as much as 52 percent.
“I knew we were buying into a hole; what I didn’t know was how deep the hole was,” Gomes said. “We were standing in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was a lot worse than I thought it was.
“What I did, I did to save these peoples’ jobs,” he continued. “It was right before Christmas; I didn’t want to put 2,000 people out on the street.”
Yet he knew that in order to have any chance of saving resorts, he had to cut expenses — fast.
Gomes insists that as a new employer, he was legally not bound to pay employees at their existing salaries. But that strategy infuriated the city’s largest casino workers union, Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union, which staged noisy pickets outside the casino most weekends during the summer, and persuaded several convention groups to take their business elsewhere.
Union president Bob McDevitt hammered Resorts and Gomes throughout the summer, at one point invoking slavery and plantation wages, loaded language in this predominantly African-American city. He has since tempered his rhetoric as the union seeks to begin meaningful contract negotiations with Resorts, having already reached pacts with six of the city’s 11 casinos.
McDevitt suspended the picketing as a sign of good faith during negotiations, but insists the pay cuts imposed on Resorts workers will not be permanent.