Party hosts at Harrah's

Rapper, singer, song-writer and actor Curtis James Jackson III, better known as "50 Cent," celebrated his birthday by performing for a near capacity crowd at The Pool After Dark, Harrah's Atlantic City on Wednesday July 8, 2015 ( Photo: Tom Briglia for Philly News )

What do 50 Cent, Pauly D, Paris Hilton, Brody Jenner, Lance Bass, and Dennis Haskins have in common? They're all regulars at Harrah's Atlantic City.

Each has hosted multiple parties at Pool After Dark, the casino's nightclub. Other hip Atlantic City clubs, such as MIXX at The Borgata and Dusk at Caesars, are booking electronic dance music artists and well-known DJs this summer. Pool After Dark plays Top 40 hits; its party hosts are often celebrities closer to D-list than A-list.

On Wednesday, 50 Cent hosted his 40th birthday party at the pool. On Friday, Saved by the Bell's Haskins hosted a party called Summer School with Mr. Belding. Bass, of boy band 'NSYNC, hosts a party Saturday night.

The pool's resident DJ is Pauly D, a cast member from MTV's Jersey Shore. (Every Jersey Shore alum has hosted parties at Harrah's.) Jenner, another reality TV star, is spinning at a Christmas in July party later this month. Hilton is returning to the pool in September to host a party. Kendra Wilkinson, Kim Kardashian, Mario Lopez, and Ice T and wife Coco all have hosted parties at Pool After Dark.

The lineup of hosts is the brainchild of Howard Weiss. A regional vice president for Harrah's parent company Caesars Entertainment, Weiss has been booking the pool since returning to Atlantic City six years ago from Las Vegas. He says he's looking for stars who appeal to the 21-to-35 age group.

"We're a unique nightclub," he said of Harrah's year-round pool surrounded by a 90-foot dome. "I like to go after the celebrities, the performers, the reality stars that bring a throwback perspective that our guests can engage with . . . they can sort of relate. They see somebody they used to see on TV. It's not Mark Wahlberg. But it's relevant because back in the day they were somewhat big celebrities."

Guests at Pool After Dark trend closer to 21 than 35. The dress code is relaxed. Yes, women in skintight dresses teeter in high heels, but fitted jeans and sneakers also are allowed. "We're not the coolest place in town," Weiss said. "But we have a fun and engaging environment. No other place on the East Coast that you'll find an experience like this."

Weiss, 33, describes a party host's night as follows: The guest shows up around midnight. He takes photos at a step and repeat, a mini-red carpet area, and occasionally does a meet and greet with VIPs and high rollers. The celebrity then hosts the nightclub for two hours in a section next to the DJ booth, including 45 seconds of time on the microphone. Some hosts do more.

"Mr. Belding is a great host for us," Weiss said of Haskins. "He's very interactive with all of our guests. He loves taking pictures. He gets on stage and hosts dance competitions. He goes above and beyond."

Haskins has an aura among millennials and younger Generation Xers. He played Mr. Belding on Saved by the Bell and spin-off The New Class from 1989 to 2000. Billed as Mr. Belding for Friday's event at Harrah's, Haskins attracts long lines when he makes appearances. On June 24, the Brooklyn Cyclones hosted him as part of its Saved by the Bell night. Haskins signed autographs for fans for about five innings before he was whisked away for more appearances at the park.

"We have a lot of people appear at our games," said Cyclones director of communications Billy Harner. "He drew one of the longest lines. You would've thought an astronaut were signing autographs."

Haskins, who is 64, began making nightclub appearances in Las Vegas, where the party host concept is much more prevalent. Weiss brought him to Harrah's a few years ago through DJ Hollywood, who spun at Friday night's show. Haskins seems genuinely delighted to make appearances at nightclubs, essentially being the same character he's been playing for 25 years.

"I am very grateful for the relationship I have with the fans," he said. "I get right into the crowd, and say hi to people, and shake their hands, and take pictures. A lot of them, they want to share with me about what the show meant to them."

Weiss said the average shelf life of a nightclub is about two to three years. Pool After Dark is now in its eighth year and still popular; Pauly D drew 3,000 people to the club two weeks ago. Haskins thinks it's the venue's crowd and ambience that keep bringing people back.

"I've been in crowds in Vegas and there's people from all over the country," he said. "New Jersey's wonderfully different. It's just amazing how many people show up. . . . That pool is so big. When they turn it into a club at night, it's huge."


jmcquade@gmail.com