Tony Cassiani, a retired recreational therapist with a cool grand in his pocket, parlayed his winnings at a West Virginia dog track into a one-day, round-trip jetliner joy ride to the craps tables in Atlantic City, N.J.
Linda, an Ohio factory worker unemployed for four months, flew to the Boardwalk with $480 in her purse, hoping a hot streak at the slot machines would finance a trip to “the better casinos” in Las Vegas.
They were among the 90 serious gamblers and dreamers of fortune from the Pittsburgh area who recently invested $119 in a 300-mile chartered flight to Atlantic City’s gaming tables and slot machines. They were deposited back in Pittsburgh some 15 hours later.
Gamblers like those aboard the Emerald Air DC-9 have helped turn the once-moribund seashore resort into the nation’s most popular recreational destination.
Atlantic City, with 12 casino hotels, attracted 33.1 million visitors last year, most of them repeat day-trippers who gambled, according to the New Jersey Expressway Authority. Only 1.3% of the visitors arrived by air. Most came in cars or buses.
The passengers aboard the recent gambling flight from Pittsburgh were given $20 in coins after they were dropped off at a Boardwalk casino hotel, and a voucher good for $10 more if they repeated the trip within two months.
“One day’s enough. I figure if I can’t get lucky in one day, that’s it,” said Cassiani, 65, of nearby Carnegie. “You can go through a lot of money in three days in Atlantic City.”
Gamblers like Cassiani lost a total of $2.73 billion in the casino hotels here last year, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
Apex Travel, the suburban Murrysville agency that organized the one-day flight from Pittsburgh, runs the trips monthly “and sometimes we turn people away,” said owner Mary Ann Sood.
On the Floor 82 Minutes Later
Agency guides herded the gamblers from the airport waiting room to the jetliner. They boarded buses in Atlantic City and were on the casino floor of Bally’s Park Place just 82 minutes after departure.
All were ready for action. None seemed interested in the beach or Boardwalk.
Sood said her clients are under no obligation to gamble, but the promised $20 is available only from casino cashiers.
Cassiani said his being single and “a good state pension” from his years working at a mental hospital allows him to bet on the greyhounds four times a week, the horses now and then, the Pennsylvania Lottery for $5 a day and a bimonthly flight to Atlantic City or Las Vegas.
Cassiani on this trip shunned Park Place’s craps tables for those at Resorts International Hotel Casino up the Boardwalk “because they just feel good.”
Banking on his experience in back-room games in Pittsburgh, Cassiani bet the dice for four hours, riding as much as $40 on a single roll and at one point losing $250.
On previous trips, Cassiani has lost as much as $500 and has won as much as $375. This day, he recovered his $250 and figured he walked away $72 ahead.
“I was lucky. I’ve been lucky all my life in a lot of things,” he said with a shrug. “I got my money back and paid my expenses, so I’m satisfied. I really had a good time. I only came down here for rest and relaxation.”
Linda, 38, of Youngstown, Ohio, asked that her last name not be used. “I guess I really shouldn’t gamble if I’m not working,” she said.
A divorced mother of a 12-year-old girl, Linda plays cards at home with girlfriends for $2 a hand, bets the horses occasionally, and plays Ohio Lottery numbers with bookies “because the odds are better and they come and get your money for you.”
In Atlantic City and Las Vegas, she plays slot machines, roulette and blackjack with a passion.
“I love gambling,” she says. “I just have it in me. I was married in Vegas in ’76, so that’s why I was a loser in love, I guess.
“I still pay my bills. I’m still not in debt, but I’m not working, so I shouldn’t gamble. I’m not compulsive-compulsive.”
On this day Linda intently played quarter, half-dollar and dollar slot machines. She treated herself to a $15 prime rib dinner at Caesars Hotel Casino and bought $60 worth of souvenir sweat shirts, caps and jewelry.
Thinking ahead, Linda did not bring her bank credit cards for fear of the temptation to get extra money from casino cash machines.
On the flight home, Linda figured her purse was about $280 lighter.
“That’s not too bad for all day, is it?” she smiled. “I enjoyed it. I laughed with my girlfriends. I had a good time.”
The gamblers got some practice while still in the air. En route to Atlantic City, they wrote their seat number on a dollar bill for two drawings from a paper bag left over from someone’s breakfast. The winners each picked up an extra $45 for the challenge ahead.
By 9:15 p.m., still eager to play after more than 11 hours, several cursed tour guide Donna Auckerman when buses for their homeward journey were a half-hour late and they were waiting at curbside.
‘Time Is Money’
“We could have been up at the tables longer. After all, time is money,” one young woman grumbled.
When Auckerman announced that their plane would leave two hours late, most cheered her and rushed back into Park Place’s casino for still more action.
Lottie Kalish, 62, a former supermarket clerk from Carnegie, flies to Atlantic City once a month. This time, her bankroll was $500 for the 50-cent slot machines.
“If I was younger, I’d like to work here,” she said, looking out over the glitter of Boardwalk and Park Place. “I’d like to give out change or work with the slot machines. It looks better than the A & P.”
Kalish was $150 ahead at one point, she said, but finally lost $250 for the day.
“If I went on vacation I’d spend that much, too,” she said cheerfully. “I really enjoyed it. You can’t gamble in your own town, so you have to come to Atlantic City. But, oh no, you can never get ahead if you gamble.”