ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Mitchell Etess thinks he knows the biggest thing that was wrong with New Jersey's oldest casino.
"There weren't a whole lot of people sitting around New Jersey or Pennsylvania that said, 'Let's go party tonight in Resorts,'" said Etess, whose Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority now runs Resorts Casino Hotel. "I don't even think their parents were doing that."
But that's all in the past now that Resorts has one of Atlantic City's newest entertainment attractions.
The casino held a grand opening Thursday for Margaritaville, the $35 million restaurant, bar, and gambling complex that's part of a $70 million expansion and renovation of Resorts. It was 35 years ago this weekend that Resorts became the first casino in the United states to open outside Nevada.
"This place is an example of the fun and entertainment that Atlantic City can be all about," Gov. Chris Christie said. "New Jersey is back, we're ready for summer, and there's nothing that will keep this state down if we all work together."
The Jimmy Buffett-themed project is expected to breathe life into a casino that had struggled to compete with newer, bigger casinos in Atlantic City and in neighboring states. In announcing the project last year, Buffett said the boardwalk and beach were ideal locations for the latest of 25 Margaritaville complexes he has helped to open in U.S. and international resort destinations.
Buffett, who did not attend the opening, had predicted that his fans, who call themselves Parrotheads, will feel at home in the new location.
"Atlantic City has always historically been a great beach town and needless to say I kind of thrive in those kinds of communities," Buffett said last June. "And it certainly does not go without being noticed by me and a lot of people that work for me that the Jersey Shore has the largest flock of Parrotheads up and down the Eastern Seaboard. So, with helping bring back a great beach town, we are also giving a flock of migrating birds a nest to come to."
It features a Margaritaville restaurant, the LandShark Bar & Grill, Margaritaville-themed casino space, the Five O'Clock Somewhere Bar, a retail store and a coffee shop. A giant blender, an ode to that frozen concoction made famous in Buffett's signature song, will welcome guests at its front entrance.
Pam Foldes of Penndel, Pa., was one of them. Sitting at the bar with a balloon animal tied to her head early in the afternoon, she said Margaritaville will make her much more likely to play and stay at Resorts when she visits Atlantic City.
"I love it here," she said. "The bartenders are marvelous. They literally jump to find out what you want and bring it to you. It feels very friendly here."
Sitting next to her was Mari Hehl of Stratford, N.J. They two had never met but were well on their way to becoming good friends after a short time at the bar.
"The crowd, I think, is the best indication of what's going to happen," she said. "There's a lot of people here. I think it's going to do well."
Margaritaville employs 600 people in Atlantic City.
Twelve Margaritaville-themed table games and 160 similarly themed slot machines will be part of the casino.
It has island-themed decor, an indoor lighthouse, palm trees and tropical-blue skies and clouds painted onto the ceilings. A week of auditions was held to select the bands and singers that will perform live there.
The project is part of a five-year-old effort by Atlantic City casinos to offer more than just gambling, particularly since so-called "convenience gamblers" who would ride the bus into town, play slots for a few hours and then go home, now have casinos much closer to their homes in Pennsylvania and New York.
Smaller projects like Margaritaville will likely do more to restore Wall Street's willingness to invest in the resort than would another large project following the bankruptcy of the $2.4 billion Revel casino hotel project, an analyst at a major casino industry conference held Wednesday in Atlantic City said.
Other work recently done at Resorts that is not part of Margaritaville includes hotel room renovations, new carpeting for the entire casino floor, and a food court.
"It's going to open the eyes of a lot of entertainment seekers," Etess said. "To quote Jimmy Buffett, 'It's a complete change of attitude.' It's not your mother's Resorts anymore. We are changing the perception and we are changing the reality."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC