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Atlantic Cape Community College hosted Brookdale Community College at Sandcastle stadium in Atlantic City. Atlantic City, NJ. April 7, 2021 (Kristian Gonyea/For The Press of Atlantic City)

On one clothesline, stories of resilience and pain in the face of sexual assault

PLEASANTVILLE — Colorful T-shirts hung from a clothesline in front of an office building Friday fluttered in the wind like a Mexican papel picado garland hung for a party. But the messages they displayed were anything but cheerful: “Victim” and “survivor.”

On the 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, volunteers and staff at Avanzar, the Atlantic County victim advocacy organization, are giving a voice to the often voiceless through the Clothesline Project.

Participants, usually victims or loved ones, created a T-shirt describing their experience or in memory of a loved one who is a victim of sexual assault or sexual violence. The project aims to increase awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence and honor those victimized.

“You want to think about it as a means of therapy to a certain extent,” said Donna D’Andrea, legal service coordinator for Avanzar, describing how survivors put into words or pictures or designs what their experience is or was. “The purpose of it when you display it is really encouraging individuals to walk around the clothesline, to read what the shirts say, so that other people can see what their experience has been.”

Avanzar has been participating in the Clothesline Project for 25 years.

“People will walk up and say, ‘How much are the shirts?’ And it’s like, did you read them? Because if you read it, you wouldn’t be asking the question,’” D’Andrea said. “Then it’s really just saying to them, ‘Just walk around, read the shirts and you’ll understand what I mean.’ And usually then, people get it.”

Statistics show sexual crimes are very common and victims have a hard time coming forward, although that is slowly changing thanks to the #MeToo movement.

A 2015 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows approximately 1 in 5 or an estimated 25.5 million women in the United States reported rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime, and about 2.6% of U.S. men (an estimated 2.8 million) experienced the same, with most regardless of gender being victimized before the age of 25.

A 2018 U.S. Department of Justice report shows the self-reported incidence of rape or sexual assault more than doubled from 1.4 victimizations per 1,000 people age 12 or older in 2017 to 2.7 in 2018. But despite the increase in self-reports, there was a decrease in reporting to police in those same years.

Avanzar’s sexual assault program team leader Patricia Miles-Jackson said many of the victims helped through Avanzar just want to be heard.

“A lot of our survivors are in the beginning processes of healing, and they share their story as a step to healing from the trauma they endured,” Miles-Jackson said.

D’Andrea said the #MeToo movement or reporting of sexual misconduct by people in power helps to validate other victims’ experiences, especially when their abuser is a pillar in the community.

“They can feel comfortable to say, ‘Oh my god, that happened to me, no wonder I feel the way I do,’” she said.

Valeria Marcus, of Atlantic City, a survivor of child abuse and domestic violence and a local victim advocate, said she came out Friday not just for herself but to support the many family members and friends who have also been victims of sexual assault.

While advocates say the first key to prevention of sexual assault is raising awareness, Marcus said she wants more people to not just be aware, but also to actively help victims.

“If you’re aware of anyone who has been sexually assaulted, abused, incest, too, I think you should get involved,” she said. “Call 911. Even if you have a suspicion. Everyone needs to learn the signs.”

She said to be a witness if you have to “and not stand in the background looking in.”

“I think if all communities get involved, to bring sexual assault awareness to their community, we can eradicate this and it will get better for victims and survivors,” Marcus said.

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Will online gaming's success continue with casinos reopening?

ATLANTIC CITY — When Atlantic City’s casinos shut down in mid-March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the gaming industry all but completely stopped.

The only part of the industry still operational was online gaming.

With gamblers stuck at home, many of them decided to pick up their smartphones and tablets and take up online gaming, giving casino operators a desperately needed revenue boost.

While brick-and-mortar casino revenue dropped by nearly 44% to $1.5 billion in 2020 compared to 2019, internet gaming revenue increased by 101% to $970.3 million in 2020 compared to 2019.

The success of internet gaming over the past year and the revenue lifeline it provided to casino owners and the state has made some wonder whether it will cut into brick-and-mortar revenue in the long term as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.

“At the start of the pandemic, people increasingly sought out ways to do things at home and online, not just for gambling, but almost everything,” said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for PLAYNJ. “And online casinos were one of the benefactors of that trend, especially in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where online casinos were already legal. That trend brought new customers that might not have found them otherwise.”

When Gov. Chris Christie signed internet gaming legislation into law in February 2013, it was touted as another option that would make the resort’s gaming market more competitive. Those against it claimed it would take away from brick-and-mortar casinos in the resort.

Since it has been legal, online gaming has become a key part of revenue for casinos.

But for 3½ months during the pandemic, online gaming was the only option.

“While insight into specific gambling behavior requires further investigation, we have definitely seen a shift in the gaming market overall. But, just because online gaming is particularly popular now, under pandemic conditions, does not mean that it will replace in-person gaming options when pandemic restrictions are finally lifted,” said Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.

At Golden Nugget Atlantic City, online casino revenues increased by close to 65%, three times the growth they would have expected without the pandemic, said Warren Steven, vice president of Golden Nugget Online Gaming.

“This was due to an accelerated adoption of online gaming by casino players, meaning a higher number of new players, especially when casinos were closed, but also, with people staying at home and having fewer entertainment options than usual, players tended to increase their frequency of play for a few months, while some patrons who had stopped playing came back to play,” Steven said.

During the state-mandated shutdown of the casinos, which lasted until early July, online gaming commercials filled television screens. The commercials touted the ease with which people could enjoy the casino gaming experience without getting dressed and heading to the resort, opening up the industry to a whole new group of customers.

“Atlantic City and its casinos endured their most challenging year in history — casino hotels were closed more than three months to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus,” said James T. Plousis, chairman of the state Casino Control Commission. “Internet gaming continued, generating revenue to sustain the businesses and provide critical funds for programs that aid New Jersey’s senior citizens and disabled residents.”

Online gaming offers most of the games casinos offer, including poker, blackjack, slots and roulette. There are also many live-dealer options to give players as realistic an experience as possible.

“We also knew, even pre-pandemic, that the online casino customer was often different from a physical casino visitor ... that they are not necessarily trading one for the other,” Gouker said.

But the success of online gaming during the pandemic could keep some people away if they don’t have a positive experience when they are able to return to the resort, said Jim Kennedy, a local economist and former executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

“Post COVID-19, a bad customer experience will result in a higher degree of business loss. Atlantic City is an indivisible part of the casino customer experience,” Kennedy said. “There now exists an overabundance in internet and regional casino competition prohibiting A.C. room for reasons not to visit.”

Bokunewicz believes online gaming will continue to play an important role in the casino industry, but it will not take away from the brick-and-mortar properties. A recent study from the gaming institute suggested people are more than willing to return to the resort as restrictions are lifted.

A survey released in early March showed more than 70% of the 805 people polled by LIGHT said they plan to visit Atlantic City within the next six months.

The survey showed more than 42% of respondents said they had visited the city at least once since the casinos reopened in July. The remaining respondents cited COVID-19 as the reason they didn’t visit.

“Last year was too much of an anomaly to use as a gauge of future behavior. In the 12-month period ending February 2020 before the pandemic hit, brick-and-mortar gaming was up year over year even with growth in internet gaming,” Bokunewicz said.

Steven said their data and surveys show brick-and-mortar casino players don’t reduce their casino visitation after they start playing online.

“We also think that, in casino states, online casino revenues will eventually be equivalent to 40% of brick-and-mortar casino revenues, and this 40% will essentially be incremental, not cannibalistic,” Steven said. “Online gaming competes with other forms of digital and home entertainment (Netflix, social casino, Candy Crush) for share of time on screen, not with brick-and-mortar casinos, which offer a more social experience that goes way beyond gambling.”

Even now, as capacity restrictions have been eased at casinos, online gaming has continued to grow, Gouker said.

“So the growth as things have opened up more is just a continuation of that trend. ... A lot of customers found online casinos and are sticking with it, while incremental growth continues,” he said.

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While brick-and-mortar casino revenue dropped by nearly 44% to $1.5 billion in 2020, internet gaming revenue increased by 101% to $970.3 million compared to 2019.

Donna D’Andrea talks about her personal experience with domestic violence in the studio at The Press of Atlantic City.

South Jersey guys in trademark dispute with actress Gal Gadot over supplements name

MAYS LANDING — When three Oakcrest High School friends created a line of supplements, they did not know they would face off against the actress who plays Wonder Woman over their company name.

Pete D’Amico, of Mays Landing, Will Smallwood, of Port Republic, and Bill Rementer, of Philadelphia, created a company called PWR Supplements with three products: PWR Rush, a pre-workout supplement, PWR Down, a sleep-aid supplement, and Pro-Tropic, a brain and gut health supplement.

Months before they applied for a trademark for their company name, actress Gal Gadot and her husband, Yaron Varsano, filed paperwork for a company they want to launch for supplements that would be called GAL PWR.

While the trademark dispute will either be settled between their attorneys or with a judge in a court, the venture for the three area friends has turned out to be much more than they’d ever anticipated.

“It’s a very intimidating process, to say the least, but we have been moving forward, so that we can keep doing what we do best and making supplements that are popular,” said Smallwood, 31.

Kenneth A. Feinswog, who is based in California, is the attorney representing Gadot and her husband in the trademark matter. Multiple attempts to reach Feinswog for comment were unsuccessful.

Smallwood and Rementer grew up in Port Republic together and have been friends since fourth grade. At Oakcrest, Smallwood and D’Amico became familiar with each other by hanging around a group of friends with similar interests in music. Smallwood plays drums, and D’Amico plays bass and lead guitar.

One of the three PWR Supplements partners, D’Amico, 29, earned his bodybuilding pro card in the category of men’s physique. A pro card is considered a golden ticket that proves you have put in the work and successfully competed in amateur competitions. D’Amico lived with college roommates who created their own supplement blends.

Rementer, 29, saw the gap in the market for the supplements D’Amico was filling.

Rementer, who is certified in sports performance enhancement and was a personal trainer for five years, was interacting with the people who would be potential customers for their supplements.

Smallwood was the one who wanted to make it official and sell their supplements.

They created their first energy drink, Lemon Limeade, because they saw the need for a beverage that could be consumed before working out that tasted good. The energy drink has the caffeine of coffee, but it also contains L-Theanine for a smoother, less jittery reaction, Smallwood said.

“We have people who are doing office work at Google, Lockheed, Boeing, who drink it as an alternative to coffee,” D’Amico said.

The 10-year trademark they are seeking with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is called a common law trademark because they have an existing product they are selling as opposed to just an idea or a concept, Smallwood said.

The PWR Supplements products started in 2018, but the trio registered for their trademark in November 2019 so their products could be sold through Amazon, Smallwood said. Besides Amazon, their products can be ordered through their website,

Gadot and her husband do not have GAL PWR products on the market yet, but they did file to register their trademark in February 2019, before the Oakcrest trio did.

The men received a nonfinal notice email in August that their application for a trademark was being suspended because of two other applications, one of them being Gadot’s, Smallwood said. The third application for the same trademark filed after the Oakcrest classmates is only a concept at this point, he said.

They do have a registered trademark for one of their products, PWR Pro-Topic, Smallwood said. The trademark was applied for in 2018 and approved the next year.

The men said they have spent between $50,000 and $100,000, including the labor and hours they have put into making their line of supplements a reality.

At this point, they have several options available.

They could share the trademark name with Gadot, but they believe that would put them at a disadvantage because she has the bigger name. They are concerned consumers would think their product is a cheap knockoff of Gadot’s.

If they don’t defend their trademark, their application will go down the drain, and it would open the door to the possibility of Gadot and her husband receiving the trademark automatically.

Gadot also could offer to buy their trademark from them.

A fourth option is to fight back and head to patent law court, where a judge will rule in the their favor, against them or decide they must share the trademark with Gadot.

A judge’s decision may not come until a year from now, but the friends have decided they will see this process to its end.

“We still plan to keep growing our business,” Smallwood said. “We feel like we are doing something important, and we need to protect our brand.”

If a judge rules against them, they will have to forfeit their company name and relabel products that have been created but not sold at the time.

“It would be essentially the end of PWR Supplements, but not of us doing business as a supplement company,” Smallwood said.

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