September 2, 2014 in Nation/World

$2.4B Revel casino starts closing down

Atlantic City struggles as gaming industry retrenches
Wayne Parry Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

People walk on the boardwalk past the closing Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., on Monday – the most spectacular and costly failure in Atlantic City’s 36-year history of casino gambling.
(Full-size photo)

By the numbers

49,000: Approximate number of people employed at Atlantic City’s casinos in 1997

26,000: Estimated number of people who will be employed at Atlantic City’s casinos when the Trump Plaza closes in two weeks

McClatchy-Tribune

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The most spectacular and costly failure in Atlantic City’s 36-year history of casino gambling began to play out Monday when the $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel emptied its hotel.

Its casino will close early today.

Revel is shutting down a little over two years after opening with high hopes of revitalizing Atlantic City’s struggling gambling market. But mired in its second bankruptcy in two years, Revel has been unable to find anyone willing to buy the property and keep it open as a casino. It has never turned a profit.

“It’s kind of sad,” said Andrew Tannenbaum, of Edison, who has stayed at Revel a dozen times in the past year. “Compared to other casinos, this was a lot nicer. 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 will be the second of three Atlantic City casinos to close in a two-week span. The Showboat Casino Hotel closed its doors Sunday, and Trump Plaza is closing Sept. 16.

The closing of the three casinos and the rapid-fire loss of 5,700 jobs, draw comparisons to longer-term collapses of U.S. industries such as steel.

“This is a massive economic body blow to Atlantic City on par with the hit to the national economy during the Great Recession,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

Beyond the thousands of lost jobs, which will spread into related industries and the general economy, Atlantic City will soon be left with four empty buildings (including the closed Atlantic Club) that have no clear future.

“What we’ve got in Atlantic City is unprecedented. It hasn’t happened before in this type of context, where they are going to shutter them up and literally can’t give them away for pennies on the dollar, like Revel,” said Alan Silver, a former casino-industry executive who teaches at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

So what killed Revel?

Analysts and competitors say it was hampered by bad business decisions and a fundamental misunderstanding of the Atlantic City casino customer.

“The timing of it could not have been worse,” said Mark Juliano, president of Sands Bethlehem in Pennsylvania and the former CEO of Trump Entertainment Resorts in Atlantic City. “The financial climate while Revel was developing and when it opened were completely different.”

Revel officials declined to comment.

The casino broke ground just before the Great Recession. It ran out of money halfway through construction and had to drop its plans for a second hotel tower while scrambling for the remaining $1 billion or so it needed to finish the project. When it opened in April 2012, it was so laden with debt that it couldn’t bring in enough revenue to cover it.

The idea behind Revel was to open a totally different resort, a seaside pleasure palace that just happened to have a casino as one of its features. That included Atlantic City’s only total smoking ban, which alienated many gamblers; the lack of a buffet and daily bus trips to and from the casino; and the absence of a players’ club. By the time those decisions were reversed, it was already too late. High room and restaurant prices hurt, too.

“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,” said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. “But the market that Revel foresaw for its property just didn’t materialize, partially because of the growing perception that the city wasn’t ready for that kind of customer. At the same time, Revel didn’t have a plan to successfully market to the traditional Atlantic City customer.”

McClatchy-Tribune contributed to this report.

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