Departed casino exec dealt bad hand from start

It might not have been as hard a shot as the legalization of casino gambling Pennsylvania and New York State or the stupidity of national news reports that had the boardwalk “demolished” by Hurricane Sandy, but Atlantic City took another knee to the gut last weekend with the departure of Don Marrandino.

Since December 2012, AyCee native Marrandino had run Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City and Showboat Atlantic City—as well as Harrah’s Philadelphia--as eastern region president of Caesars Entertainment. According to the official party line, his sudden departure from the Caesars empire was voluntary and effected so he may pursue the ever-popular “other opportunities.”

Well, that’s their story and they’re obviously gonna stick to it. But the more skeptical among us may interpret the move as a) a way to assign blame for the Shore casinos’ ongoing financial freefall and b) a cost-cutter (Marrandino’s position has been eliminated; the four AyCee casinos will be run by existing execs).

Unlike so many gaming hall suits, Marrandino is no bean counter whose eyes never leave the spread sheet. He came to town with a reputation as an entertainment powerhouse with an uncanny feel for what gambling customers want, and an understanding that his is the business of selling fun and escape, not insurance or cemetery plots. We were promised that under his auspices, the Caesars’ casinos—and the city in general—would reach new levels as an entertainment destination.

And to some degree, that happened. Among other achievements, Marrandino recruited his good buddy, Sammy Hagar, to lend his name to Bally’s revamped beach bar, was one of the brains behind the recent Sandy-relief exhibition hockey game at Boardwalk Hall, and brought such A-listers as Madonna and Van Halen to the venerable auditorium.

But, he came to town as the recession was pretty much at its worst point, and as eastern Pennsylvania gambling dens were really roaring. As such, there’s no question he was always reined in by economic considerations. Which is why one of the signature entertainment moves of his regime was the signing of a long-term deal that brought the “Legends in Concert” musical mimic-fest to Bally’s. That was about the safest signing possible—hardly the hallmark of a casino show biz visionary.

The guess here is that deal was made above Marrandino’s lofty pay grade. We’ll go so far as to say it wouldn’t be surprising that Marrandino got stomach cramps whenever he thought about the popular, but well-worn revue.

If only he had been in AyCee when it was the East Coast’s 800-pound gaming gorilla, and entertainment budgets were not primarily the purview of accountants.

 But, let us not weep for Don Marrandino. He no doubt exited with a handsome severance package, and a man of his experience and industry standing can certainly find employment as soon as any no-compete contractual clause permits.

No, the loss isn’t his, it’s Atlantic City’s. Here’s hoping Marrandino gets another shot in his home town under more favorable conditions.

Pinnacle bottoms out

It appears the sale of the long-vacant Pinnacle Entertainment site in Midtown AyCee is imminent.

 The Wall Street Journal earlier this week had the 19 beach-front acres that once housed the Sands Casino Hotel being sold for $35 million, monumentally less than the $270 million Pinnacle paid for it in 2006. The Las Vegas-based company had planned to build a billion-dollar, seaside-themed pleasure dome on the property, but the Great Recession of 2008-’09 put the kibosh on that pipedream—after the Sands had already been demolished.

The two big questions, of course, are: Who is the buyer? What will be built on the site? The deal is expected to close this winter, so we should know the answers shortly.

See a seer at Harrah’s

Talk about your long-distance calls. Saturday, psychic Sylvia Browne will be making contact with the dearly departed. She’ll also be talking about her life and career, and offering motivational concepts during her appearance Saturday at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City.

 Show time is 9 p.m. Admission is $60, $40 and $30. For tickets, call 800-736-1420, or go to