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A Shore Bet

by C.J. Mittica

Revel, Atlantic City’s newest casino, hopes to revive the city’s dwindling number of visitors.

The years of tumultuous development are behind him, and the completion of his $2.4 billion casino and resort is finally within view. With its May opening rapidly approaching, anticipation for Revel—Atlantic City’s first mega-resort—is off the charts.

But CEO Kevin Desanctis first cannot ignore a few minor details: finishing construction on a six million-square-foot facility, hiring and training 5,000 employees, and unlocking more than 1,000 rooms, 12 restaurants, 30 retail shops, two major entertainment venues, 170,000 square feet of group space and more.

“There’s no shortage of challenges here,” says Desanctis, no stranger to the high expectations of the casino and gaming industry. “My first focus is accomplishing all that.”

Delivering shouldn’t be a problem; Desanctis says Revel is actually slightly ahead of schedule, and he doesn’t discount the possibility it could open even earlier than the announced date. That’s good news not only for the millions of visitors prepared to flood Revel’s glittering grounds, but also the powers that be in Atlantic City. The city’s first new casino in nearly a decade will be counted on to help revive AC’s flagging attendance.

“Revel is going to take Atlantic City to the next level,” says Roger Gros, publisher of Casino Connection Atlantic City. “It’s even a step above the Borgata. Some of the elements of that property are going to bring people to Atlantic City just to see it.”

That’s heady praise for a project that, by all rights, was never expected to be completed. Development on the resort began in 2007, but two years later—with the economy reeling and its $2 billion in funding dried up—construction halted. “There were multiple points where I thought the challenges were extreme,” Desanctis says, “and there was a strong probability we weren’t going to get there.” But fortunes changed earlier this year. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. dropped a massive investment of $850 million, and Gov. Chris Christie chipped in $261 million in state tax credits. With the persistence of Desanctis and the intervention of the governor, Revel got back on track.

“The governor was extremely instrumental,” says Desanctis, adding that Christie’s major reforms in Atlantic City —creating a new state-run tourism district and empowering the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, among others—encouraged investors to dive back in.

To take Atlantic City into the future, Christie has been very vocal about cleaning up its many run-down sectors and emphasizing the region’s natural beauty. More than a mere casino, Revel is created to be an outdoor nirvana, embracing its beachfront location rather than shunning it. Rooftop gardens, cafes and inviting lines of lounge chairs all look out over the water. The massive, swooping glass and steel structure reflects the surroundings.

Thanks to the $68 million state and federal restoration of Atlantic City’s disappearing shoreline, Revel has a true beach experience to offer future visitors. “The beach and ocean are our calling card,” says John Palmieri, the newly appointed executive director of the CRDA, “and we need to do more to create points of connection between the casino and the neighborhoods and the water.”

Quite simply, Revel (located in a part of the city called the Inlet) is intent on righting the recent wrongs of Atlantic City’s past. Officials believe it will cultivate the surrounding environment, encouraging respectable nearby development. And the resort is intent on attracting a wide and diverse crowd—not only gamblers and entertainment-lovers, but also beach-going families and corporate conference attendees. “Having Revel opening will actually bring more people back to Atlantic City who enjoy the more complete experience,” says Haddonfield’s Liza Cartmell, CEO of the freshly created Atlantic City Alliance.

It’s unknown whether that will attract investors to renovate some of the city’s existing casinos. But, beyond the high-profile restaurants and Las Vegas-style nightclubs enticing people to the area, Desanctis has stayed true to one simple, firm belief. “We think we will appeal to people who enjoy oceanfront resort destinations,” he says. “And that’s just a lot of people.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 9 (December, 2011).
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