Gambling returns to 2 once-shuttered Atlantic City casinos

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - People are winning and losing money again for the first time in years at two Atlantic City casinos that had been shut down.

Monday marked the first day of so-called "soft play" at the Ocean Resort Casino and the Hard Rock. The testing period is designed to see how the casinos' equipment and technology systems work before the full grand openings for both facilities on Thursday.

But the winning and losing of money was real. Just ask Marian Simmons of Somers Point, New Jersey.

"I just stuck my card in the machine, and on the second spin, I won $225," she said. "I'm so happy!"

Lee Gentile, of Toms River, New Jersey, was having a similar run of early good luck. In 15 minutes at a slot machine, she had won $400. As a reporter watched, she won another $50 on her next spin.

"I should take this now and go home," she said. "But of course I won't."

Both casinos invited friends and relatives of employees to be the first to gamble there during the testing period that began Monday and was expected to run through Wednesday. The purpose was to see whether the slots work properly, the player's club kiosks work and the information technology functions as it should, along with more mundane concerns like air conditioning, lighting and directional signs on the casino floor.

As of late Monday afternoon, no serious issues had arisen at either casino, said David Rebuck, director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Hard Rock would not permit reporters to watch their soft-play period. But casino President Matt Harkness said things were working as designed Monday.

"Everything is going smoothly, and the staff is really motivated," he said.

Hard Rock is the former Trump Taj Mahal casino, which was stripped to its foundations and redone. Opened by Donald Trump in April 1990, the Taj Mahal closed on Oct. 10, 2016, following a bitter strike in which then-owner Carl Icahn and the city's main casino workers' union could not reach agreement on a contract to restore health insurance and pension benefits to unionized workers.

Ocean Resort is the former Revel, the casino that lasted just over two years before shutting down on Sept. 2, 2014. Monday was the first time members of the public were on the casino floor since then, which had been reconfigured to make it easier to get around. Its previous layout was a major source of patron complaints.

"I like the way it's laid out," said Joyce Green, of Vineland, who said she used to gamble at Revel once a week. "It's not confusing now; back then it was very confusing."

Green, too, was having good luck in the early going at the slot machines, winning $300 in her first 15 minutes.

"It's called, 'This is what could happen, but don't get used to it,'" she said with a laugh.