Gomes’ impact reached across gaming industry

Dennis Gomes, the Resorts Casino Hotel chief executive officer and part-owner who died last night, made a profound impact elsewhere over the course of his career, but his work in Nevada stands on its own as exemplary.

Helming the Gaming Control Board’s Enforcement Division in the 1970s, Gomes was the point man for Nevada’s drive to root out organized crime from its casino industry. Gomes personally led the investigation of the Argent Corp., which, as fictionalized in the film Casino, was one of the landmark moments in the anti-mob effort. It might be fitting that the Mob Museum opened in downtown Las Vegas recently, because without Dennis Gomes, the last chapters of the mob in Las Vegas casinos might have been written quite differently.

The work that Gomes did in Nevada was so impressive that, when New Jersey legalized casinos, he was tapped as the chief of the Special Investigations Division of the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, which is roughly analogous to Nevada’s Gaming Control Board. Gomes had the tough job of setting up the division’s investigative framework and of investigating the applicant for New Jersey’s first casino license, Resorts International.

Gomes was then lured back to Nevada to become the vice president of casino operations for Hilton Hotels, overseeing the Las Vegas Hilton and Flamingo Hilton. He then served as president of Steve Wynn’s Golden Nugget casino before returning to Atlantic City to help revive Donald Trump’s struggling Trump Taj Mahal casino (personal note: I worked for Gomes in security in these years).

Gomes was also notable for righting the Tropicana, which had also begun taking on water, and planning The Quarter, a retail, hotel and dining expansion that both responded to the opening of the Borgata mega resort and to the growing competition from surrounding states.

But he was in the process of making his biggest impact in Atlantic City at the time of his death. With a partner, he had bought Resorts—the same casino that he’d investigated more than 30 years earlier—and was in the process of reinventing it. As an owner, he raised some eyebrows by opening up the city’s first gay nightclub in a casino, but that was exactly the kind of fresh thinking and outreach to previously neglected groups needed in Atlantic City.

Atlantic City’s casino business has long been criticized for not looking beyond slot machines, but Gomes was one executive—and owner—who consistently championed the kinds of nongaming attractions that have kept Las Vegas viable despite new competition.

What’s more, though not an Atlantic City native, he became an ardent advocate for the area. When, in 2005, he set up his own consulting group, he chose to base it in Atlantic City, and when he decided to become an owner, he pursued that opportunity in Atlantic City.

“I think he got sand in his shoes,” Casino Control Commission spokesman Daniel Heneghan says of Gomes. It’s a phrase you’ll hear about people who move to “the shore” and find they don’t want to leave, and it’s a term of endearment. “He really liked being here. He was such a great guy, too.”

Even though Gomes’s work in Nevada does his memory and the state credit, his greatest service to the state might have been what he did after he left. By helping to establish a rigorous regulatory regime in New Jersey, Gomes aided in the national growth of the gaming industry, which assisted the legitimization and continuing growth of Nevada’s casino business.