(CBS/AP) The judge who wrote the book "Boardwalk Empire," now an HBO series about vice-ridden Prohibition-era Atlantic City, has ordered the state's transit agency to keep its hands off a billboard that shows a nearly naked showgirl's backside.
The highway sign promotes a stage show at Resorts Casino Hotel, which has adopted the Roaring '20s as its new theme, in part to capitalize on the show's popularity.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson ordered NJ Transit and its advertising agency not to touch the billboard until a hearing can be held March 10 on what to do about it.
Casino owner Dennis Gomes says the sign doesn't hurt anyone.
"I've got five kids and they've seen butts all their lives and they all turned out fine," he said. "When you go to the beach, you see women in G-strings all the time. In Europe, they go topless. I really don't understand what all the fuss is about."
The fuss started shortly after Feb. 1 when Resorts rented the billboard on the Atlantic City Expressway, over a NJ Transit train station, to advertise "Moonshine Follies." In case anyone missed the subtlety, the word "moon" is highlighted just to the right of the model's rear end.
The show is designed to evoke a Roaring '20s vibe, which is what Resorts has staked its future on after its previous owners nearly had to close it because of financial problems.
"We have this 1920s show being specially created for us with beautiful women with great bodies in it," Gomes said. "It's all about the music and dancing of the '20s.
"There was a whole social revolution going on in the 1920s, particularly regarding women," he said. "They were dancing in public, which they had never been allowed to do before."
Gomes said he and his marketing team knew not everyone would love the billboard, but that's the point.
Gomes is known in the casino industry for using outrageous promotions and wacky stunts to generate publicity for his casinos. The most famous involved a tic-tac-toe-playing chicken that competed against customers when he ran Atlantic City's Tropicana Casino and Resort a few years ago.
At the same casino, he enraged Cuban exile groups by using billboards of Fidel Castro to market a Cuban restaurant. And his TV ad for an Indiana casino using a Barack Obama look- and sound-alike drew a rebuke from the White House, creating the kind of free publicity businesses can only dream about.
Of the latest billboard, Gomes said, "We knew some people wouldn't appreciate it, but it was to differentiate us from the masses down here."
A few local residents complained to politicians, and the complaints reached NJ Transit, which owns the land upon which the billboard stands. Gomes said the agency and its advertising company threatened to take the billboard down or to paper a different advertisement over it.
So Resorts went to court Thursday. Judge Johnson issued a show-cause order directing NJ Transit and its ad agency to explain why he should not issue a restraining order barring them from touching the billboard until its rental period expires in mid-April.
A court date is set for March 10 in Atlantic City.
NJ Transit spokeswoman Penny Bassett-Hackett said the agency's lawyers are reviewing the matter. She declined further comment.
Gomes said Atlantic City, which is being thrashed by out-of-state casinos, needs to lighten up.
"In Las Vegas, there's billboards all over the place showing women's and men's bodies," Gomes said. "This is not even close to that."