Fewer headliners, more parties in Atlantic City at midnight
For David Spatz, the best New Year's Eves at this historic resort were in the 1990s, when media mogul Merv Griffin gave the city national exposure.
From 1991 to 1996, Griffin did a nationally-televised New Year's Eve special from Resorts Casino Hotel. It was the only one outside New York City to celebrate the holiday. Spatz was a field reporter for the shows, doing live shots from the roof, the Boardwalk and the casino floor.
"What made them special, and what makes them standout, is they put the national spotlight on Atlantic City on New Year's Eve," Spatz, the Longport Media News Director, told the Press of Atlantic City (http://bit.ly/1JLwNgW).
There won't be a nationally televised special Thursday night in Atlantic City. The New Year's Eve headliners Spatz remembers -- Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Joan Rivers -- are stuck in the city's past.
The city's troubled economy, changing demographics and new strategies by the casinos for entertaining guests are all factors. Perhaps the most notable act Thursday, comedian Kevin Hart, isn't even performing at a casino. Hart is at Boardwalk Hall.
"They're trying to be careful with how they spend their entertainment dollars," said Spatz, who covered casino entertainment for The Press of Atlantic City for 18 years.
Jeff Guaracino, the outgoing executive director of the Atlantic City Alliance, the city's marketing arm, said there's limited artist availability this time of year.
"Madonna is home for the holidays," Guaracino said.
But the lack of headliners doesn't mean today's casino operators don't have a lot planned for the big bash Thursday night. And the different approaches to the holiday reflect the new strategies as the city tries to reinvent itself once again.
When the clock strikes midnight, thousands will pop champagne bottles at The Playground. Fireworks will blast over the Boardwalk at the Tropicana Casino & Resort. Others will have indulged in four course dinners at Harrah's Resort.
"It depends on your interest and your age group," Guaracino said
Mark Giannantonio, president of Resorts, said the trend among the properties is catering to millennials, who prefer night clubs over headliners. So Resorts will have two parties Thursday night -- one in a ballroom, another in a new meeting space.
"At the same time, we feel a headliner is very important," said Giannantonio, whose casino will also have Tony Orlando, a New Year's Eve mainstay in Atlantic City. He said acts like Orlando still cater to more than half of the casino's customer base.
The Tropicana is trying something new for New Year's Eve: fireworks at midnight. Steve Callender, general manager at Tropicana, said the casino received good feedback from its firework shows this summer. Fireworks also appeal to a broad demographic, he said, and could draw eyeballs from as far as Longport.
"Fireworks are great, especially on the beach, Callender said. "They touch everybody."
Meanwhile, the Playground is trying to throw a record-breaking party. It will try to get 3,500 people at its numerous clubs and bars to pop champagne bottles, an attempt at a Guinness World Record.
"We're trying to make a statement, trying to show Atlantic City is a destination and it's not the troubled area people say it is," said Brian Nagele, operator of The Playground.
For Spatz, the New Year's Eves here aren't the same.
"There was a period when New Year's Eve, if you lined up all the limos transporting the stars, you'd cause a major traffic jam in Atlantic City because the headliners were bumping into each other. There was so many of them." Spatz said.
Still, that won't stop him from ringing in the New Year at Atlantic City. He will catch Tony Orlando, who will perform in this city for the 25th time on New Year's Eve.
"I've never missed a New Year's Eve with Tony, so I'll be helping him celebrate his `silver anniversary' as Atlantic City's longest-running New Year's Eve entertainer," Spatz said.
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)