by Charles Jay
Just a couple of days ago, somebody died who had more of an impact on the sport of mixed martial arts than you may be aware.
Dennis Gomes ran a lot of casinos, in both of the major gaming centers of this country – Las Vegas and Atlantic City – and left an imprint that will not be long forgotten.
He passed away of complications from kidney dialysis at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 68.
If you ever saw the movie “Casino,” somewhere in the net that was closing in on the Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci characters was a Dennis Gomes character. That’s because Gomes was a central figure in the investigating the money-skimming operation that was going on at the Stardust, which eventually led to the indictments of many, and a transition of Las Vegas from a town that was heavily influenced by organized crime interests into one that was dominated by high-profile corporate entities. which in turn has led to a certain sterilization, if you will, of Vegas that shepherded a tremendous period of growth. That city might not be what it is today if not for what Gomes has done, and his work with the Nevada Gaming Commission was only a start. Later he ran the Dunes, Silver City, Silver Nugget, Dunes, New Frontier, Las Vegas Hilton, Flamingo, Aladdin and Golden Nugget.
It was from the job at the Golden Nugget, which had become a mainstay of the downtown Las Vegas area, that Donald Trump hired Gomes to take over his Taj Mahal operation in 1991. From there it was on to a job with even more expansive responsibilities, overseeing the Tropicana hotel-casinos and more as the head of Aztar Corporation. During his time with Aztar, the Tropicana’s Atlantic City property saw revenues increase from $68 million to $130 million.
Gomes had an improbable and unusual trajectory in the casino business, After all, one does not usually go from casino regulator to casino executive to casino owner. But he had a flair for all three of those positions. In fact, Gomes was known as quite a promoter of the casinos he stewarded.
One time, while he was at the Tropicana in Atlantic City, he had humans playing against chickens in a game of tic-tac-toe (No, you couldn’t bet on it).
Utilizing stunts like that, Gomes took on the label of “genius,” which may or may not have applied. What was certain is that he was active in thinking outside of the box, which is something that had become lost in a world of casino gaming marketing where standard cookie-cutter techniques had become commonplace, and the corporate structure had, in some ways, stunted imagination.
Gomes, however, was in a position to exercise some imagination. He always saw the trends coming. His grand plan when he bought Resorts Hotel-Casino less than a year and a half ago, with the financial backing of Morris Bailey (an Atlantic City native), included remaking the casino in a theme that evoked memories of post-World War I, prohibition-era Atlantic City, riding a wave of popularity and nostalgia that had come with the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” Resorts was a loser, having defaulted on the mortgage, and was getting ready to go on the scrap heap. Gomes had seen the value of the brand (it had been the first hotel-casino to open in Atlantic City, and yes, Gomes had investigated its principals for the New Jersey commission). He and his partner got a good price ($31.5 million) based on the real estate value alone, endeavored to go “retro” and appeal to a younger crowd at the same time, and proceeded to place the casino among the top revenue-earners in Atlantic City.
He saw that AC needed to move a little more toward Las Vegas in terms of maximizing non-gaming revenue, and so he built the Quarter, Tropicana’s showcase “village” of shops, restaurants and entertainment that has turned into a major tourist destination off the Boardwalk in a town that could really use one.
And it was no small thing, in a casino culture that may have a libertine face but is actually somewhat conservative at heart, that he opened a gay nightclub at Resorts in 2011.
Gomes was also on top of the action in the sport of mixed martial arts. And that was no coincidence, since he was an avid martial artist – a 5th degree black belt in Tang Soo Do and a 2nd degree black belt in Hopkido – working out to the point of fanaticism (“Probably I’ve never known anyone else who worked so hard at staying physically fit,” former employer Donald Trump told the Press of Atlantic City).
When he was sitting before the New Jersey Casino Control Commission regarding his and Bailey’s purchase of Resorts, Gomes explained his management philosophy simply. “There’s something in the martial arts called chi, the life energy that guides you,” he said. “I think I give energy.”
He was instrumental in the sport coming to the Boardwalk. One of the major events in martial arts, the Action Martial Arts Hall of Honors, a two-day extravaganza that includes exhibits, celebrity appearances, tournaments, seminars and a banquet, also known as the “Academy Awards of Martial Arts,” was established at the Trop in 2001 while Gomes was there, and is still held there today. The Tropicana is the long-time Atlantic City home of the New Jersey-based MMA organization “Ring of Combat.” Much of that comes by way of the residue of Dennis Gomes’ presence. Gomes was responsible for bringing the The MMA & Sports Expo Show of Strength to Resorts last year.
He’ll certainly be missed not only in the mixed martial arts world, but in all the worlds he occupied.