I really miss the original Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

I was fortunate to spend most of my 20’s working there as a young adult. It was an incredible experience and proving ground.

Steve Wynn was a dynamic, Walt Disney-like visionary.

Wynn bought all of us lucky executives brand new cars … that he let us keep. All of this before I turned 25 years old. Just surreal.

It was our normal … but, it took years of life experience to learn how normal it wasn’t.

I couldn’t believe the day that then Golden Nugget President and Chief Executive Officer Boone Wayson brought me to his office and told me that I could purchase any car of my choosing … with a budget of $ 15,000. It was surreal.

The only requirement was that Mr. Wynn limited our selection to American-made automobiles … which I thought was a great idea.

It was a very sad day when we were summoned to the Golden Nugget Opera House and Boone Wayson delivered the news that Mr. Wynn had sold the Golden Nugget Atlantic City to the Bally’s Organization.

Donald Trump was attempting to purchase Bally’s … they didn’t want that. In what is famously known as “Greenmail” … Bally’s purchased the Golden Nugget … in order to keep Trump from buying them.

In those days … there was a limit in terms of how many casinos that one person could own. Trump already owned multiple Atlantic City casinos.

Wynn brilliantly leveraged this and sold the Golden Nugget to Bally’s for $ 440 million. He built the property in 1980 for $ 160 million.

Wynn had also grown tired of both incompetent state and local government.

Wynn took his $ 440 million back to Las Vegas and built the (then incomparable) opulent Mirage Casino Resort.

You can not overstate how significant Wynn’s departure from Atlantic City really was.

Fortunately, Donald Trump and Nick Ribis were there to pick-up the slack.

The Golden Nugget next became Bally’s Grand, with a great man, Hank Applegate taking over for Wayson, who went on to join Wynn on the Wynn Resorts Board of Directors … where Wayson ultimately become Chairman of the Board.

Applegate did a masterful job, after being placed in a very challenging situation.

I don’t know a single one of us that wanted to become a Bally’s employee. We loved working at The Golden Nugget.

It was such a special place to work.

Each Department Head interviewed directly with then Bally’s Chairman Richard Gillman. I still vividly remember the day he walked into my office for my interview.

I didn’t realize it until our discussion was underway. This interview would decide whether you would be retained or fired.

Mr. Gillman had his famous cigar in a “V” for victory pose, holding position in his right hand … the first thing he said to me was “Why the F*** should I keep you?”

Having nothing to lose, I responded … “You should keep me Mr. Gillman because I’m the very best in Atlantic City at what I do.”

I made the cut … a number of my colleagues did not make it.

The former Golden Nugget Atlantic City had other iterations as the Atlantic City Hilton and the Atlantic Club.

Both the Atlantic City Hilton and Atlantic Club were under the direction of Nick Ribis (Colony Capital).

Mr. Ribis was the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Trump Hotel and Casino Resorts, where he led 4 Trump Atlantic City properties.

I had the pleasure and privilege to work closely with Mr. Ribis for a number of years. We have been friends for more than 35 years.

Ribis’ commitment to Atlantic City was incomparable.

Almost every time that I visit Atlantic City, I make it a point to take a good look at the now dormant property at the corner of Boston and Pacific Avenues.

Here’s a sad photo, with the white paint peeling … showing the original red paint.

Harry Hurley photo.
Harry Hurley photo.

It’s sad to watch it deteriorate before our eyes … but, it is still very sentimental to me.

When I look at it … I still see our glory days … when we worked at the most successful casino hotel in the history of the world during the 1980’s.

Here is a bonus for reading this far.

First, I would be egregiously remiss if I didn't properly thank Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino Atlantic City designer, Paul Steelman for making this walk down memory lane possible.

Paul Steelman is one of the most prolific and respected casino designers in the world.

Paul Steelman & Joel Bergman - Designer & Architect - Golden Nugget Atlantic City
Paul Steelman & Joel Bergman - Designer & Architect - Golden Nugget Casino Hotel Atlantic City

Paul provided us with truly iconic images of the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino, taken at various stages during its construction from more than 40 years ago.

Immediately below this article, is a gallery of 30 photos provided to us by Steelman, with his permission granted to publish them in this exclusive coverage.

Many of these photos have never been seen before.

I'm also pleased to report that in a second part, we will be publishing actual design drawings that are incredible to see the intricate attention to detail taken during the construction of the Southernmost located casino in Atlantic City.

Steelman will also be getting us additional photos that we will share with you at a later date. Additionally, I also have my own album of about 20 high-quality professional 8 x 10 photos of the opulent spa and salon that Chuck Malamut, Joel Bergman, Paul Steelman designed. These photos of mine were taken in 1987 and we'll also be publishing them in the near future.

Forty years ago, there were no real computers to help do the kind of work that Joel Bergman, Henry Conversano (he's pictured below in the photo gallery), and Paul Steelman did in designing and building The Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. They utilized exceptional human talents to build (what was then) the most profitable casino in the history of the world.

The property was on the smaller side. It couldn't operate as a volume grind joint. It had to focus on a high-end philosophy.

Special events were born at The Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. An event would be wrapped around Frank Sinatra, a major boxing fight, the wedding of Vic Damone and Diahann Carroll, who were married at The Golden Nugget in Atlantic City.

Special events at The Golden Nugget were special and almost always very profitable.

This is the closest that I have ever come to opening a time capsule.

Today, we think nothing about having a photo of any and everything. The camera is in our pocket at all times.

Think back to 1980, to take a photo you needed a separate camera, you needed a roll of film, you had to get the film developed. Sometimes the photos didn't turn out right and you missed that special moment. It was lost forever.

That's what makes the photo gallery below so very special. These are photos that most people have never seen.

I think it is so cool that we can share this experience together. We can view more than 40-year-old photos for the very first time. This almost never happens in life.

The 1980s was a very special decade in the history of Atlantic City. It was a magical time. It seemed like the streets were paved in gold. The Atlantic City casinos were making money hand over fist. They reinvested heavily in their properties, and, it seemed like a new casino was opening every year ... because they were.

Please join us and take this special walk down memory lane and enjoy the photo gallery directly below.

An Exclusive Look Back at the Golden Nugget, Atlantic City from 1980

Gallery Credit: Harry Hurley

Steel Pier

Gallery Credit: Harry Hurley


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