The Borgata has been Atlantic City’s premier destination for LGBTQ customers since its doors opened in 2003. The venue strengthened its connection to the community when it launched OUT at Borgata, a program that curates events and travel packages designed specifically for queer patrons.
Their commitment to equality doesn’t just stop with the customer: the Borgata has received a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for three years running, and has been named one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality.
On Dec. 7, OUT at Borgata revives one of its most popular parties: Pride Bingo, an evening of music, games and drag escapades, all for a worthwhile cause. Proceeds from the event will benefit Garden State Equality, the largest operating LGBTQ advocacy group in New Jersey. The happening will be hosted by Philadelphia-based drag queen Sandy Beach, and will feature a special performance from Shangela, a beloved star of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “A Star Is Born.”
PGN spoke with Liza Constandino, Borgata’s Director of Communications, about what attendees can expect, and the casino’s commitment to the LGBTQ community. Some responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.
What steps has the Borgata taken to grow its relationship to the LGBTQ community? Something that has really set Borgata apart is that we want to reach a variety of demographics. We want to speak to everybody, and we want everybody to feel welcome here. For a number of years, we did that through a very diverse entertainment lineup, so that everyone felt they had a reason to come here. When I came on board as the property’s publicist, I was working with a lot of LGBTQ journalists. My colleagues said, “We get that we feel welcome here, but we want to be spoken to directly.” Before we launched the OUT at Borgata campaign, I said that I have to make sure that we are doing the right thing on the back end to make sure that we would receive a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. We reached out to local organizations like the Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance. We also realize that we are Philadelphia’s shore, because we’re so close, and a lot of Philadelphians frequent our property. We reached out to the Independence Business Alliance, which is based in Philadelphia, but at the time, they weren’t accepting any members outside of the city. We invited them down to talk with us and experience our property, and we became their first member outside of Philly. From there, it just kept growing. Once we felt that we were truly an LGBTQ-friendly organization, we launched OUT at Borgata, so that we could speak more directly to the community.
How did you become affiliated with Garden State Equality? We host a lot of conventions at the Borgata, including chambers of commerce and municipalities from throughout the state. Christian Fuscarino, who is the executive director of Garden State Equality, works with all of these municipalities to ensure that they are doing the work, and that the state is living up to its commitment to be LGBTQ-friendly. He had heard about our OUT at Borgata program, and he reached out to me directly to host something and asked if he could partner with me. He told me about the organization, and I looked into it on my end, and I asked Bryan Buttler, our LGBTQ Community Affairs Consultant, to look into it. And Bryan told me he thought they were a home run. Our first event with them was three years ago, and we really just hit it off. Our relationship started from there, and we started expanding out. They did their Equality Walk in Atlantic City for the first time in 2018, which we sponsored. They really are leaders in their field. I can always reach out and ask them how we can continue to educate our team members, especially if an issue arises, and they’ve always been so great.
Tell me a little about Pride Bingo specifically. I’m guessing this isn’t like a typical night at the bingo hall, right? Definitely! Pride Bingos are super, super fun. The first year we did it, we held the event in a smaller room on property called the Signature Room, and we decided to make it a first-come, first-served event. We were turning people away from the door it was so packed. So each successive year, we grew it into a larger room, and now we can accommodate around 400 people. It’s a true party. It’s not the stiff, boring bingo of our grandparents’ generation. Because Garden State Equality is based in Asbury, we reached out to the great community that exists there. There is a very vibrant drag scene in Asbury, and I’m working with my great friend Michael Cooke to bring some of the girls down and have them work the floor. Sandy Beach, who lived in Atlantic City for many years, is emceeing. She makes the event. With each game, we’re giving away fabulous prizes: a dinner on property, an overnight stay, tickets to a show. The grand prize is a $1,000 Borgata gift card. And the highlight this year will be Shangela’s performance, which I’m so excited about.
So, how did Shangela become involved? A great friend of mine who worked on my team for many years, Nick, is a huge fan of hers. For years, he said we had to get Shangela. One year, she wasn’t available, so we went with Trixie Mattel — who was fabulous, of course. But I knew the right opportunity would happen. Nick worked with Shangela’s manager on a different event, and we got connected that way. Her team has been so great to work with. Not only is she going to do the performance at Bingo, but later that night, we’re doing an OUT at Borgata takeover of the mezzanine at Premier Nightclub. Shangela will host that as well.
What message do you want to impart to your LGBTQ patrons? It means a lot not just to do the right thing, but to do it the right way. To be working with all these great organizations is my privilege. To meet Christian and to know what Garden State Equality is doing for the state I live in, and where our business operates, means everything to me. To be able to say that I work at a place where everybody feels like they’re in a safe space, and everybody feels like there’s something for them, is really all there is.
OUT at Borgata’s Pride Bingo is on Dec. 7, beginning at 3 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit www.theborgata.com/shows/event-details/pride-bingo-atlantic-city. To learn more about Garden State Equality, please visit https://www.gardenstateequality.org/.