Will Revel Be a Monument to Atlantic City’s Broken Dreams?

Whatever happens next at the perpetually troubled casino will be bad news for a city that’s gotten too much of it.

Photo | Jen A. Miller

Photo | Jen A. Miller

On Thursday morning last week, I stepped onto the escalator from Revel’s lobby to head down to the Boardwalk. It was windy. I could tell not just because I could see dune grass blowing in the breeze, but because I could feel it — inside the building. The wind hit me in the face, and shook the sculptures hanging from the ceiling, which I had been told on my pre-opening tour of Revel weighed as much as a car — each.

That afternoon, Revel would file for bankruptcy for the second time since opening in 2012, attaching to it a threat to shut down by August 18th if it did not find a buyer. If that does happen, it’ll join Showboat, which will close in August, and the Atlantic Club, which closed in January  as boardwalk gambling ghosts.

A lot of things went wrong with Revel, mostly that it was a casino conceived at the peak of Atlantic City’s gambling monopoly, and opened near the bottom. It came onto the market with far too much debt, and took an even greater risk in trying to place itself above the typical Atlantic City gambler by limiting the number of slot machines and banning smoking. Now, the $2.4 billion casino is on the verge of closing, taking a $260 million investment from the state of New Jersey with it.

So will it close? If I were a betting woman (which I am not, even though I had a nice trip to Revel), I’d say no. A second bankruptcy wipes even more debt off the books and makes it more attractive to a buyer, and Hard Rock has been circling. According to Hotel Chatter, the hotel was sold out last weekend, and was packed while I was there on a weekday — a weekday in the pre-season run-up to the Fourth of July weekend when they were charging double than what some of the casinos up the boardwalk were charging per night.

When I chatted with a group of convention goers at the Royal Jelly bar (where burlesque dancers preview the show they do inside their club) last Thursday night, they said they had no idea what was wrong with Revel and hoped it wouldn’t close because it was the best and nicest casino option on the boardwalk. I agree with them, which is why I paid double to stay there versus a legacy casino. And when I left on Friday afternoon, the HQ Beach Club was packed solid with drunk New Yorkers in bikinis and board shorts dancing to EDM like it was 1 a.m.

Even with all this, Revel is not profitable, according to its lawyers, and in an interview with the Inquirer, Alan R. Woinski, chief executive of Gaming USA Corp., said, “the best thing that could have happened to that property is Hurricane Sandy, instead of nailing Seaside Heights, would have nailed that property. That thing should have wound up in the ocean instead of the roller coaster.” He recommended the best fix was to knock it down and start over again, correcting things like a long walk from the casino lobby to the gambling floor, and empty spaces that make the property hard to heat and cool.

I’m guessing the wind tunnel was part of that problem, and parts of the hotel — like elevator lobbies — ran hot while I was there. My cab driver, an Atlantic City resident, said it was a nice place but he often got lost — that layout is a little bit goofy, but then again, so is the Tropicana’s.

Atlantic City continues to fall. The Borgata won an $88 million tax refund from the city, and Resorts’s tax assessment will drop by a third. Caesars has also challenged their tax assessment.

No matter the result, what happens to Revel is going to be bad news. If it sells for as little as $30 million, as some analysts predict, it’s another sign that casinos really are dying in Atlantic City. And if it closes, it will remain as an empty monument to those big dreams that gambling would save a broken city.

Follow @byJenAMiller on Twitter.

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