Revel Went Out With an Early-Morning Fire Alarm

Revel, the $2.5 billion casino, shut its doors for good at 6 a.m. Tuesday. But not without a final dose of drama.


Revel on its last day. Photo | Dan McQuade

The Revel couldn’t even close without a little drama.

With just five hours until closing, the fire alarm at Revel went off. At 1 a.m., the casino emptied of patrons and workers. Most of the patrons strolled away from the casino for the last time, while the workers gathered outside posed for group photos on their final night. Revel closed at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning, just over two years after its opening was supposed to usher in a revitalization of Atlantic City’s northern end of the boardwalk.

Bayani, a Revel dealer, exited the casino and stared out at the ocean, the fire alarm still shrieking inside the soon-to-be-shuttered casino. “What else can they do to me?” he said to no one in particular. He laughed.

Indeed, the mood was somewhat jovial once patrons and workers were allowed back in to the casino about a half hour after it emptied. Revel was almost completely devoid of gamblers after the alarm, with only a few stragglers spotted pushing the buttons on slot machines and throwing chips down on the few tables that remained open. The final night at Revel was an appropriate metaphor for the casino’s failure: The house wasn’t making all that much money.

But while the casino floor was nearly empty, Ivan Kane’s Royal Jelly Burlesque Nightclub turned into an Irish wake for the Revel. The crowd, consisting of gamblers and casino workers sharing drinks in the final hours, danced and sang as not-so-scantily-clad dancers stomped on the bar and danced along the catwalks. People engaged in long hugs and said their goodbyes. Two people got into a shouting match, and one eventually stormed off a bit before returning. A suit-clad Revel employee, who (perhaps wisely) declined to give his name, jumped up on the bar and took a spin around the pole himself. Eventually, $150 bottles of champagne went for five bucks.

Not even another false fire alarm an hour after the first one could dull the mood at Ivan Kane’s.

The partying at the bar masked a somber feel. Darlene Thomas, a cocktail waitress at the Borgata who previously worked at three boardwalk casinos, was all smiles — “This place is fucking beautiful,” was the first thing she said to me — but was heartbroken at the loss of jobs of friends and fellow casino industry workers.

“I truly want to cry,” she said. “I see so many families that are being ripped apart now. They have to move to Maryland, they’re moving to Delaware just to have jobs so they can support their families.”

After several time warnings starting at 4 a.m., Revel made a loud announcement you could hear outside the building at 6: The casino was closed. Gamblers had to leave. No one would be winning any more money from Revel. The entrances to the casino were chained off.

But the fire alarms weren’t the only final shot at Revel: Someone even vandalized the sign for the casino on the boardwalk, perhaps in an attempt to steal it, on Monday morning.

Before the late-hour emptiness, parts of the casino were even hopping on the final day. Revel’s HQ club, a successful beach-hugging bar that was well-regarded by club-goers, was packed with partiers. In the afternoon the mood was festive outside the casino, in the same way Center City at 2 a.m. is festive. Overly tan drunk people made out, argued, stumbled around and whooped it up — just in bathing suits this time.

“This was definitely my favorite place to work,” an HQ Club bouncer who gave me an obviously fake name (“John Smith”) said when we chatted after I gave him a light for his cigarette. “People acted crazy and they were demanding, but that’s everywhere. You can’t beat working on the beach.” He says he has another security job where he can get more hours to make ends meet, and hopes to find more work at another Atlantic City club eventually.

Revel, which was originally done in a partnership with Morgan Stanley, struggled even before it opened. Planned during an Atlantic City construction boom, Revel was originally supposed to be two thin towers. The casino, which would feature Atlantic City’s first casino wedding chapel, was supposed to position Atlantic City as an East Coast Las Vegas. It broke ground in 2008. But the credit crunch proved disastrous for Revel, which laid off 400 workers and halted indoor construction in 2009. Morgan Stanley pulled out in 2010, taking about a billion dollar loss.

The state eventually bailed them out in 2010, contributing $261 million in tax-increment financing. “When Revel is the success I know it will be, the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey will participate in the success of it,” Chris Christie said at a dog-and-pony show announcing the state’s rescue of the stalled project. In 2013, the state agency that controls the pension fund voted to invest $300 million with Chatham Asset Management, which owned 28 percent of Revel.

When Revel finally opened in 2012, it cost $2.4 billion — almost five times what Lincoln Financial Field cost. It was positioned as an alternative to the stodgy Atlantic City casinos of old. It banned smoking. There was no buffet. It had four Jose Garces restaurants in it. It even let in natural light. It didn’t even have casino in its name, originally. It was just “Revel.” It was supposed to be the young, hip casino that would guide Atlantic City into a bright, new future. It was going to “save Atlantic City.”

It didn’t do that, to say the least. Its concert hall was dark for months. Philadelphia magazine’s Victor Fiorillo gave it a scathing review and the casino later admitted it was experiencing a “total meltdown” in service. The casino was sued multiple times: It was accused of skipping out on its construction bills, misleading gamblers on its summer refund promotion, and having one of its escalators snatch an Englishman and dangle him 40 feet in the air. One weekend, 50 people were stuck in elevators. Drivers left almost $21,000 of Revel’s money on the roof of an armored car; the investigation was closed without anyone finding out what happened to the money. The casino was even responsible for a UFO sighting, which was such a major event NBC 10 reported on it. The “UFO” turned out to be The Pearl, the incongruous giant golf ball at the tip of Revel. (For the record, Fiorillo called it an “utterly stupid white ball.”)

Meanwhile, many things that were supposed to set Revel apart made it unfriendly to Atlantic City gamblers. Gamblers who smoked stayed away. Rooms weren’t comped, so heavier gamblers went elsewhere.

Revel predicted it would be more profitable than the Borgata in its first full year. It lost $130 million. It sat in the bottom third in revenues among casinos. It eventually fell to last. And those profits weren’t as high as they once were: Atlantic City casino revenue has plummeted since 2008, battered by the economic downturn and the rise of casinos in nearby states. Why go all the way to Atlantic City when you can go to Sugar House or Parx?

“Compared to other casinos, this was a lot nicer,” Andrew Tannenbaum told the AP. “There wasn’t the riff-raff here. But I think they overspent, went overboard and got in over their heads. When the Borgata opened, that should have been the last of the high-end casinos for Atlantic City.”

Revel eventually attempted to win new customers: It allowed smoking and opened a cheap buffet. It even changed its name to Revel Casino Hotel, to emphasize that, yes, you could gamble there. It didn’t work. The casino filed for bankruptcy twice. When it didn’t find a buyer in an August auction, it announced it would close. It said it was losing $1 million a week.

Other casinos are gone, too, of course. Showboat closed after 27 years on Labor Day weekend. Trump Plaza will close in September. With the Atlantic Club — the former Atlantic City Hilton — closing in January, Atlantic City will have eight casinos less than a year after having 12.

But Revel is the most obvious symbol of Atlantic City’s uncertain future. The casino now sits essentially empty, two years and change after it opened. Atlantic City mayor Don Guardian predicted the casino would eventually sell for $25 to $50 million and re-open under a new name. Is there hope? “If there had been a range of new attractions and potential customers with enough discretionary income, I think that Atlantic City could have absorbed the new capacity,” David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, told the Associated Press.

Otherwise, there’s going to be one expensive, empty monument to Atlantic City’s crumbling gambling industry at the north end of the boardwalk.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.