The union representing about 17,000 casino hotel workers extended contract negotiations Friday until Oct. 1, averting a possible strike one day before Atlantic City hosts the Miss America (search) pageant.

Local 54 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (search) has been working without a contract since midnight Tuesday. Union members have voted to authorize a strike, but one has not been called.

"If we don't settle by Oct. 1, we will definitely go on strike," said Al Tabei, a member of the union's executive board and the contract committee.

The union represents bartenders, cooks, cocktail servers, housekeepers and other rank-and-file casino employees. The group is embroiled in a dispute with the casinos over the use of nonunion subcontractors in casino restaurants and bars.

The union last struck in 1999 with a three-day walkout that forced casinos to curtail some services and put executives and managers to work in the vacated jobs.

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa (search) is the only one of the city's 12 casinos unaffected by the dispute. It signed a four-year contract with Local 54 in 2003.