Job lag and customer service add to Revel woes

The opulent but troubled new casino complex in Atlantic City has created only 2,780 full-time jobs thus far - half of its original promise.
The opulent but troubled new casino complex in Atlantic City has created only 2,780 full-time jobs thus far - half of its original promise. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 27, 2012

ATLANTIC CITY - Revel was supposed to be a job-generating machine - creating 5,500 full-time jobs with benefits as the biggest, most expensive casino ever built in New Jersey.

That job figure was heavily touted by Gov. Christie and Revel's owner until just weeks before the casino's soft opening in April. By June, the $2.4 billion mega-casino had its 14 restaurants, two theaters, 10 swimming pools, a giant spa, a retail mall, and other non-gaming attractions open for business - as well as 1,400 of 1,800 rooms and a 130,000-square-foot gaming floor.

But to date, Revel has created only 2,780 full-time jobs - half of its original promise, according to figures reported by the casino earlier this month to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. The number grows to 3,837 total employees if part-timers are included.

Revel spokeswoman Maureen Siman said Friday that the reported numbers don't include "1,000 partner jobs" at the resort's restaurants and retail shops - for a current total of 4,696 jobs.

She said part-timers do not receive health benefits but may enroll in a 401(k) program.

Meanwhile, some recent guests on the 6.3 million square foot complex that spans 20 beachfront acres say Revel may be neglecting some basic business principles: Treat the customer well; and first impressions are the most important.

"When you open up a new establishment in the hospitality industry, there are always going to be issues with service," said Richard Goldfarb, 50, a project manager from Holland, Pa., who visited Revel earlier this month. "What I cannot give them a pass on is the poor quality of some of the drinks. This comes from someone who is willing to pay for quality."

Goldfarb also took issue with Revel's prices. "$3 for ice, $7 for a bottle of water, $50 to get into a club, are a complete turnoff," he said.

Bill Froese, 67, of Brooklyn, said he was turned off by a computer glitch two weeks ago that shut down all the slot machines. Just before the shutdown, the machine was showing a credit on his new Revel player card. But when Froese used the card the next day, he said the amount on the card was zero.

"I called a manager over to ask what had happened, and his answer was, 'We don't know. The computers were down.' I felt like he dismissed me because I was just a nickel slots player.

"How can you open a $2.4 billion casino and not be sympathetic to the customer?"

Froese said he e-mailed Christie's office to complain and was told the casino would call him back immediately. It did, telling him he would get a $10 credit.

"I used it and left," said the retiree, as he ate a cheeseburger Thursday at the Trump Taj Mahal, where he played craps. "I will never go back."

When asked about the incident, Siman said, "Computers go up and down all the time. There are technology glitches in every business."

But unlike any other Atlantic City casino, the nonunion Revel received more than $300 million in state assistance to get built - including $2.6 million for employee training - on the premise that it would create thousands of jobs and tax revenue for Atlantic City and the state.

The lower-than-expected job figures come on top of Revel's lackluster performance during its first four months, with gambling revenue that has ranked it eighth every month among the dozen casinos here.

The gaming revenue has been so low that two credit agencies have just downgraded the casino's credit ratings. And owner Revel Entertainment Group L.L.C. sought to double the size of its credit line to $100 million last Monday to keep the casino afloat and make debt payments through 2013.

Larry Levine, 60, of Philadelphia, a claims clerk with the Veterans Administration and a regular visitor to Atlantic City, recently visited Revel and rated its pluses and minuses.

"The pools are out of this world, and so are the rooms," he said. "But it is true, it's ridiculous with the restaurants. There is no place to go that's reasonably priced - $20 for a hamburger, for goodness sake. ... They have to be willing to change their policies."

Hospitality and casino industry experts agree.

"They haven't been able to react to the market," said Jeff Lolli, assistant professor at Widener University's School of Hospitality Management, who worked in Atlantic City's casino industry for two decades. "They opened to a very different market in Atlantic City from 20 to 25 years ago, or even when Borgata opened in 2003."

Revel, he said, "is very high-end, but that is really not the market going to Atlantic City. Ultimately, they are going to be forced to react to the market or perish. ... They can't keep bleeding at that rate. No business can."

Revel spokesman Joseph Jaffoni said last week that Revel has a new marketing team focused on increasing gambling revenue, especially slots play, and just created a new chief operating officer position to oversee its hotel. Management also plans to cut daily operating expenses by reducing labor inefficiencies and cutting advertising costs, he said.

Dennis Lopresti of Huntingdon Valley, who visited Revel last week with his wife and mother, said the no-smoking policy covering the entire casino is what's really hurting business. The other Atlantic City casinos allow smoking on 25 percent of their gaming floors.

"I smoke, and 95 percent of the gamblers that I know smoke," he said. "We would rather go to a basement with four bare walls and be able to smoke and gamble than a place like Revel.

"If they are going to be stringent on the no-smoking policy, then I see no hope for them," he said.

But smokers Della Ross, 54, and Linda Zambito, 49, both from Buffalo, and Rita Evans, 54, of Pittston, Pa., who came Thursday just to see Revel, weren't as put off by the smoking ban as by the way they were told where to puff.

"One of their employees just waved us off with her hand, and said, 'Out there on the Boardwalk,' " Evans said.

"Well, we also took our business out on the Boardwalk," Ross said. The trio, avid slots players whom Revel is desperate to attract, walked three doors down, to Resorts, where they stayed the night. "We won't be going back to Revel."


Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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