ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - A Blue Christmas doesn't begin to describe what workers at the doomed Atlantic Club Casino Hotel will have Wednesday.
Two days before Christmas, a bankruptcy court judge approved its sale to two competitors, who will strip it for parts and close it Jan. 13.
Some workers say they're cutting way back on Christmas presents for kids, looking to sell their homes and researching how to file for unemployment and food stamps.
Annette Flack, a food server at the casino, says she now has to worry about paying for health insurance and keeping the gas turned on.
"I bought my son a zip-up sweater he liked," she said outside the courtroom, her eyes still wet with tears. "My daughter in college? I told her I got a couple small things, but your Christmas gift this year is going to college. It's disgusting how they did it and when they did it, the timing. It's not a Merry Christmas when they can team up to crush the weak ones."
Under a deal reached Friday and approved by judge Gloria Burns on Monday, two rival casino companies with a presence in Atlantic City, Tropicana Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment, will buy the casino for $23.4 million and shut it down. Tropicana will take the slot machines and table games, while Caesars will get the 800-plus-room hotel.
Neither has any interest in operating the business in Atlantic City's now diminished market. Atlantic City will have 11 casinos after the shutdown.
The judge noted the timing of the shutdown.
"I feel badly that it didn't come out in a better way," she said. "This is not palatable to the people who are going to be losing their jobs. It's not lost on me that lots of people are losing their jobs, especially at this time of year."
Catherine Irizarry has worked 27 years as a cocktail server at the casino, which opened in 1980 as The Golden Nugget, and whose commercials featured then-owner Steve Wynn bringing fresh towels to Frank Sinatra.
"I'm still in shock," she said. "I never thought it would end this way. I'm not ready to retire yet. I'm 56 years old - where am I going?"
She said she planned to spend Christmas Day with co-workers, whom she called "my second family," before they soon go their separate ways.
Fran Critch also cried as she looked ahead to Christmas, and her uncertain future. She has worked as a food server at the Atlantic Club for 29 years.
"We're thinking of selling our house, like a lot of people here are," she said. "A guy I know has already applied for food stamps."
Atlantic City's main casino workers union succeeded in getting the Atlantic Club to make $1,500 severance payments to about 650 of the 1600 casino workers who were union members. But the shutdown came too abruptly to organize a toy drive for the families of laid-off workers, as the union was able to do when Resorts laid off dozens of workers before Christmas three years ago. The union is planning a forum soon where it will help workers file for jobless benefits, food stamps and other aid.
But none of that makes up for having a job at Christmastime, said Mary Creedon, a cocktail server at the casino since the day it opened 33 years ago.
"We're losing our jobs, we're losing our medical insurance, and the future prospect for jobs is not bright," she said. "Most of us are in our 50s or 60s."
Janice Kavkeano, another employee from day one, remembered what the big selling point was in the 1976 campaign to legalize casino gambling in New Jersey.
"The idea of casinos was to give the local people jobs, not take jobs away from them," she said. "I was there on the day this place opened and I'll be there on the day we close."