Revel Doubles Down in Atlantic City

CEO Kevin DeSanctis talks A.C.'s rep, blue-hairs and working for Donald Trump.

Revel—which opens this month—really feels like a beach resort. Why did it take so long for an Atlantic City casino to notice there’s a big ocean right there?
Well, I think originally, when these places were built, most folks were trying to get in business as quickly as they could. I don’t think there was a tremendous amount of thought given to architecture and sense of place. We’re trying to focus on a customer today who’s different from the customer of 20 or 30 years ago.

It’s not the typical blue-haired bus rider?
Atlantic City customer silos really break down into four groups: the group or convention customer; the leisure customer, who is the person who wants a getaway—they’re not really coming for the gaming part of it; the day visitor, of which there are an awful lot; and of course the overnight gaming customer. Our focus is on the first two segments. We just think there’s significant potential there. It would really change the way Atlantic City is perceived.

With gambling everywhere, is Atlantic City fighting for its survival?
Atlantic City is in a period of evolution, as it should be. Most new gambling jurisdictions are fundamentally positioned to accommodate the day visitor. Atlantic City was never structured for that. It was structured to create development and go after conventions. They just decided not to invest the capital to do that. So from my perspective, it’s more of a realization of what we should have been doing for quite a while. Now, from an economic standpoint, is this something that’s being forced on us? Yeah. Because we can no longer really exist on the day-visitor business.

How did you get into the casino industry?
I was actually a detective in the New Jersey state police, assigned to gaming enforcement, in the late ’70s. We were investigating Resorts, and right after we completed our investigation, our unit was disbanded. I just decided that if I was going to do this stuff, I might as well be in the industry. And so I moved out to Las Vegas and got a job.

You worked for Donald Trump for a while. Ever hear him tell anyone “You’re fired”?
[laughs] I had a great experience with Donald. My relationship with him was very simple: He wanted results, and the team I was in charge of gave him the results he wanted. You know, I suspect if those results had not been so good, maybe those words might have been out there.

Revel got started several years ago, but there were some issues with financing.
We started the project in 2006. Our timing was just about as bad as it could be. Our partner was Morgan Stanley. Then along came the financial crisis, which shut down the credit markets. We lost about a year.

Were you ever worried that it wasn’t going to get built?
Oh, I’d say every day.

You’ve lined up chefs from Jose Garces to Michel Richard. Are they as big a draw as blackjack?
I think eating is a bigger draw than anything. I don’t know anybody who would give up a good burger for a hand of blackjack.

This story originally appeared in the April issue of Philadelphia magazine.