Revel: From Bad to Abysmal

Not even Kanye West can save the Atlantic City casino.

I wanted Revel to succeed. I really did. Oh, I realize that I wrote a rather scathing Revel review in May, one month after the mammoth project debuted on the Boardwalk. And that review was well deserved. As a representative of Revel told me in response, the weekend that I was there represented a “total meltdown” in services. With wait times in the double-digits for a plastic cup of beer or a cup of coffee, believe me, I wasn’t the only one complaining.

I expected Revel to turn things around. But they haven’t. Instead of rave reviews, I mostly hear complaints, except for some good reports coming out of a handful of Revel’s restaurants.

A look at the Google reviews for Revel shows far more “Poor to Fair” designations than one would expect from a $2 billion beach resort. The overall Google rating for Revel is 18 out of 30. If you’re not up on your fractions, that’s a 60 percent score — an epic fail considering what’s at stake, which is, without overstating it, the future of Atlantic City.

Way back in August, the Inquirer was running headlines like “Time Is Running Out for Atlantic City’s Revel.” Analysts wondered about an early bankruptcy. In July, Revel, which should have been the new, cool place to be, had earned just a third of the monthly gambling revenue of the Borgata, the old, cool place to be, which was built in 2003 for half the cost of Revel.

Out of the twelve casinos in Atlantic City, the best that Revel could do was place 8th in terms of monthly gambling revenue. And that was in summer, the height of Atlantic City tourist season. Not good. Not good at all.

Since then, the situation has gone from bad to abysmal. According to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, Revel fell to last place in October, with gambling revenues below that of far more modest places like the Atlantic Club and Resorts.

And then came Hurricane Sandy. Inquirer business reporter Suzette Parmley summed up Sandy’s effect on Revel like this:

Sandy delivered a gut punch that Revel, teetering toward insolvency even before the hurricane, will be hard-pressed to recover from, gaming-industry analysts say.

There is little hope in the foreseeable future, the analysts say, that Revel will avoid defaulting on its massive debt – not with a key demographic group, affluent overnight customers from North Jersey and New York, now spending their disposable income on cleaning up from the storm.

“There is no doubt the probability of default has increased,” Andrew Zarnett of Deutsche Bank AG said Wednesday. “There is no way to dispute that, given what has happened to Atlantic City the last two weeks.”

Then earlier this week, Revel announced three pre-New Year’s Eve shows with Kanye West in Ovation Hall, the casino’s 5,500-seat music venue. West previously performed at Revel in July, as seen in the video below.

Bizarrely, Ovation Hall hasn’t hosted a concert in months, and when it finally reopens over Thanksgiving weekend, what’s the best that Revel can do for the marquee? Aerosmith with Cheap Trick. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of $184 tickets available). Ugh.

In September, I asked a Revel rep about Ovation Hall’s anemic programming, and I was told that Revel’s “entertainment strategy” would be explained to me. That never happened. But that’s OK. Any entertainment strategy that includes keeping your main concert venue dark for months — when you’re struggling to get people in the door in the first place — is no entertainment strategy worth explaining.

Oh, the Kanye West shows will sell out. There will probably be Kim Kardashian sightings that weekend at Revel’s Royal Jelly Burlesque Nightclub. And maybe Jay-Z will even show up for a steak at American Cut.

But in the end, that’s just not enough to save Revel. Some bets are just bad ones.