The Casino File: Paul Anka at Atlantic City’s Ocean June 11; Bally’s upgrades; Hard Rock goes with Van Gogh

After more than 60 years, the singer-composer remains an AyCee favorite.
Paul Anka brings decades of hits to Ocean Casino-Resort.
Paul Anka brings decades of hits to Ocean Casino-Resort.Mark Weiss

From rotary telephones to Studebakers to 30-cents-a-gallon gas, the list of things that existed in 1957 but don’t anymore is prodigious, to say the least. But there is at least one thing that 1957 and 2022 have in common: Legendary singer Paul Anka, who had his first hit single that year.

That means the Ottawa, Canada native has spent parts of eight decades in the public consciousness--a track record relatively few performers through history have been able to claim. Not that Anka, who on June 11 headlines at Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino-Resort, ever saw it coming. Instead, he said during a recent phone chat, his horizons—and long-term goals--were far more modest.

“You have to realize, all we wanted to do then was meet the ‘Rat Pack’ and work Vegas,” he said, referencing the collective name by which Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were known back in the day. “That was it. We envisioned nothing.

"And the concern for all of us was, were we even gonna last into the Sixties?”

To that end, he continued, he “leaned into writing,” which, he suspected would offer him steady work should his singing career—which included such era-defining hits as “Puppy Love,” “Diana” and “Put Your Head On My Shoulder’—fade. “I felt that to be around another five years, maybe I've gotta go step by step. So there was really no sitting down and fantasizing, or crossing your fingers and hoping you'd make it. I can’t tell you that I envisioned any of this.”

Anka, who turns 81 on July 30, has had his fallow periods, including a career downturn in the wake of The Beatles’ epochal arrival in 1964. But he has likewise had more than his share of triumphs: In addition to being named the 21st most-successful recording artist of all time by Billboard magazine, he composed the iconic theme song for the Johnny Carson-era The Tonight Show, wrote the lyrics to Sinatra’s, “My Way” (the music was taken from a French song called “Comme d’habitude”), had a surprise 1974 number-one hit with “You’re Having My Baby,” his first chart-topper in 15 years and discovered, and helped launch, the career of superstar crooner Michael Buble. But one constant in Anka’s professional life has been Atlantic City.

Not only has he been a casino headliner pretty much since legal casinos came to Atlantic City in 1978, but he and the seaside resort go back some 20 years before that. So, does he remember his first AyCee gig?

“I sure do,” he replied when asked, identifying Steel Pier as the site of his local debut. At the time, Steel Pier was the town’s premiere entertainment venue; its signature attraction was the famed Diving Horse, which would thrill audiences by plunging from a platform into a pool of water.

“I make reference to it in my show. We’ve got footage of it. It was my first gig and I loved it. I didn't really like getting up at nine in the morning [to perform multiple daily shows] and smelling that horse before I walked out there. But what a cool place it was.”

Although he, like everyone who earns a paycheck performing for an audience, was forced to lie low because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anka was anything but idle during the involuntary hiatus. He recorded two albums—last year’s Making Memories and Sessions, which will be released July 1—and worked on a PBS television special that debuts this month. And he finally began pre-production on a long-planned documentary about his life and work that is being produced by music-industry powerhouse Irving Azoff.

“We’re now in the pre-stage of hiring a director,” he offered. “It'll take us, I think, a year or less to get this done. So that's been very time consuming, along with the albums and the PBS thing. But I love to work. It's what I've done since I left home when I was 15.”

Also on tap is a full slate of concerts—in North America and around the world—he has scheduled over the next 12 months. And he mentioned a possible Broadway project based on his life and music.

When asked for his secret to having the strength and stamina to maintain a pace that would exhaust someone half his age, he noted he neither smokes nor drinks hard liquor, and hews to a healthy diet.

The lyrics to “My Way” include these memorable words: Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention. So, what regrets might Paul Anka have?

““You know, the way I existed all my life, I don't live in the past and I don't look at it all as regrets because I've had instances where I've looked back and just said, ‘Oh, I wish this,’” he said. “But I really don't like myself when I do that, because there are so many good things that have happened to me.

“And when I look at…my life and I look at, what I've achieved and how blessed I've been, it's really hard to look at the regret column.

“Losing my mother when I was 18—she died of diabetes and I watched that whole process as a kid, her taking the [insulin] shots and all that—that was a big regret. And there have been a few regrets about people I knew that I shouldn't have been around, you know, and maybe one of the wives.

“But I just don't live that way. I'm just very positive. You can't sit back and talk about regret. You really can't. You gotta just keep your eye on a goal and keep doing what you're doing. And if you're blessed to keep doing what you're doing, you got it made.”

Big day at Bally’s

The folks at Bally’s Atlantic City jumped the gun on the holiday weekend Thursday by officially celebrating the completion of tens of millions of dollars worth of capital improvements at the midtown adult playpen.

Bally's new Carousel Bar.
Bally's new Carousel Bar.Bally's

Top brass of Rhode Island-based Bally’s Corp. were on hand to cut the ribbon on the Carousel Bar. The centerpiece of the main-floor redo, the saloon’s eye-catching modern design is paired with what is billed as New Jersey’s only rotating bar (it makes a full 360-degree turn every 11 minutes).

Also being feted was the renovation of 750 rooms and suites in the skyscraping Bally’s Tower and the (semi) opening of The Yard Beers, Eats & Beats, a massive indoor/outdoor beer garden/entertainment venue located in the courtyard of the Dennis Tower portion of the property. As of yesterday, work was still being done on the “greenhouse” that is the focal point of the project, but the kitchen is open and serving all manner of pub grub including appetizers, salads, burgers and pizzas. Plans call for the entire joint to be in business by early July.

Phil Juliano, corporate executive vice-president of casino operations and chief marketing officer, told us that there is still more on the agenda, albeit in the future.

Juliano said 2023 should see the renovation of the hotel’s spa which, when it opened more than 30 years ago, was AyCee’s first luxury facility of its kind. Also on the drawing board is a re-imagining of the Dennis Tower, which, he hinted, could involve some sort of musical motif.

No doubt adding to the joy of Bally’s suits is this week’s news that the company has received the final okey-dokey to build a billion-dollar-plus casino-hotel-entertainment center in Chicago—the only gambling den to be permitted within the city limits.

Van Gogh exhibit to Hard Rock

In what promises to be the most unusual casino attraction in many years, Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City is bringing in the acclaimed Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience for a seven-week run beginning July 8.

The interactive exhibition, which features recreations of some 300 paintings by the legendary 19th century artist, offers guests the opportunity to experience Vincent Van Gogh’s works in three dimensions. It’s been seen by more than two million people since debuting in 2017.

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