On Friday, Feb. 24, the news of Dennis Gomes’ death had hit, and it hit hard. Gomes was CEO and co-owner of Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, and he had a long and illustrious career in the gaming industry—one that impacted many he knew throughout the years. It didn’t take long for an outpouring of remembrances to come out from his friends and co-workers. It was clear this man was loved and is going to be very missed.
Before his career in Atlantic City, his gaming roots grew in Las Vegas. He served as division chief and law enforcement officer at the Nevada Gaming Control Board, where he worked to eradicate organized crime. In fact, his work to expose scams inspired the movie Casino. He also developed internal control guidelines that are still utilized by the control board today.
His work as a regulator later continued as chief of the Special Investigations Division of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
But he had dreams of operating a casino, and he eventually worked at many casinos in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City, including the Golden Nugget, Hilton, Trump Taj Mahal and Tropicana Atlantic City. He also founded Gomes Gaming with one of his sons, Aaron, to leverage his experience in managing casinos.
A somewhat recent project he was involved in was opening the Indiana Live! Casino, where he saw through its design and development and was responsible for the organization, staffing and opening. His hard work there paid off, literally. After opening, it had the highest operating profit margin in Indiana and one of the three highest in the Midwest, and received several awards.
But what many remember him for was his zest for creative marketing promotions. It was at the Tropicana where he drew in visitors by the challenge to play tic-tac-toe against a chicken. Other reported stunts include risqué billboards and a “Naked Circus,” both at Resorts Casino Hotel. And it all stemmed from a deep love for Atlantic City.
The bobblehead chicken given away as one of Gomes’ marketing initiatives.In 2010, Gomes bought Resorts Casino Hotel, alongside real estate icon Morris Bailey, in an effort to revitalize the property and see a return to profitability. It was a life-saving investment for Resorts, as the old casino was reported to have defaulted on its mortgage and was to be taken over by lenders. He rebranded it with a roaring ’20s theme to capitalize on the popularity of the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire.
Gomes clearly loved Atlantic City, and Atlantic City loved him back, presenting him with a lifetime achievement award.
Upon the news of his death, many notable names came out speaking about Gomes and the legend he leaves behind.
Tony Rodio, president and CEO of Tropicana Casino and Resort, was reported saying: “Dennis was not only a leader for the New Jersey casino industry, but an innovator for the Tropicana Atlantic City. Dennis was known for his dedication and passion to the company and its employees. A true visionary for Tropicana and Atlantic City, Dennis changed the model and set the tone for a new Atlantic City.”
Kim Butler, who knew Gomes through The Cordish Company, said: “Dennis’ vision allowed him to share his unbridled optimism and allowed those of us lucky enough to know him the opportunity to dream and to reach a little further than we might have thought possible. His true legacy is in what people like me are able to do and achieve, just because he thought we could.”
“Dennis was a mentor and friend,” remembered Donald Hoover, vice president of placement consulting services at Gaming Hospitality Experts. “He had the unique blend of servant and transformative leadership styles with a twist of Eastern philosophy. He loved and cherished the diversity of people and had great friends around the world. Above all, he made it clear that family is first. He drew his circle of friends around the world and invited everyone in. A quote from Lao Tzu is appropriate to the way that Dennis lived: ‘Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.’”
Just some of the others who made statements include Bailey, Michael Pollock, managing director at Spectrum Gaming Group, Linda M. Kassekert, chairwoman of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, Scott Sibella, president of MGM Grand, and even Donald Trump.
Gomes is survived by his wife Barbara, son Aaron and daughters Danielle, Gabrielle and Mary. The family has requested donations in his memory to Gilda’s Club and the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton College.
Amanda Huggett is the Managing Editor and an Account Manager for Casino Enterprise Management. She can be reached at (701) 293-7775 or editor2[at]aceme.org.
By Bob Ambrose
Having reflected this week on a moment in time that I spent with Dennis Gomes as a team member for a casino project in Indiana, I knew then as I know now: I was fortunate to have had the experience to work with a true gaming executive that “got it!” Not just a leader that also knew how to apply a vision, but a marketer that knew how to tap into the minds of the public and ignite the spark of the curious, thus creating a marketing moment of unique presentation.
As I prepare my lecture notes for a hospitality marketing class I am teaching at a university in New Jersey, I am looking at the statue of a “bobble head chicken” that I will be taking to class to illustrate a marketing point. It was a piece of memorabilia that was given to customers for playing tic-tac-toe with a live chicken! The Great Chicken Challenge at Tropicana in Atlantic City some years ago was one of those “zany-crazy marketing shticks” that clicked with the public and was so much a part of the Gomes showmanship. This was one of the many marketing initiatives authored by Dennis Gomes over the years. This goofy plastic character bobbing its head is even more special now.
There are multiple examples of his marketing initiatives—leadership moments and visionary triumphs, many more complex than that chicken game. When you spend hours together as the project team did a few years ago, waiting for flights, all day project meetings followed by late night meals together, you learn a great deal about the people you work with.
I have been working in gaming for three decades meeting many talented people. While some advanced to positions of leadership, not everyone has the skill sets needed to actually be a genuine leader. You can learn the skills, but it takes a unique person to effectively communicate their core values consistently, build teams and then show a track record of success.
Dennis Gomes was a genuine leader.
In 2007, I wrote a piece about Dennis for CEM and used this quote: “The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs” by Vance Havner.
Dennis Gomes did more than step up; he danced up those stairs. Every single day!