Revel casino's bankruptcy threatens plans to make Atlantic City a gambling-plus destination

The Revel has trailed other A.C. casinos in revenue despite its non-gambling attractions.
The Revel has trailed other A.C. casinos in revenue despite its non-gambling attractions. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 22, 2013

ATLANTIC CITY - The plight of the lavishly expensive but bankruptcy-bound Revel means more than just the future of one casino. It also means the potential loss of a key ingredient in the desperate city's blueprint for recovery.

With Revel's financial challenges, questions abound regarding Atlantic City's ability to alter its image as more than just a place to gamble. The architects of a reimagined Atlantic City - one that would counter gambling competition from Pennsylvania and elsewhere - saw Revel as a more diversified destination.

It was to offer more than just gambling. It would provide a sumptuous, Las Vegas-style experience. And that was the game plan, supported exuberantly by Gov. Christie and strategized by marketers and tourism experts.

The high-quality Revel would dovetail with a new tourism district, big-name entertainment, and a bid for conventions.

Now that major piece in the remodeling of Atlantic City is in doubt. Revel said Tuesday that it would seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. If Revel tanks, so, too, might much of the vision of Atlantic City as a year-round resort.

Revel ranked 11th among 12 Atlantic City casinos in January, with less than $8 million in gaming revenue. For comparison, Parx casino in out-of-the-way Bensalem took in $40.1 million in January from slots and table games.

"This is certainly disappointing, but it is not unexpected," State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said on Wednesday. He has criticized Revel's financial performance for months. The $2.4 billion casino - the most expensive ever built in New Jersey - received more than $300 million in state construction funding.

"The bottom line is that we have to make Revel work," Sweeney said. "It is too important to Atlantic City and the surrounding area not to see it turn around. Whether that turnaround happens through this bankruptcy filing, new management, or both remains to be seen. But something has to change."

Revel is Atlantic City's first fully non-smoking casino. It has 10 swimming pools, 14 restaurants with celebrity chefs, a retail gallery, two nightclubs, two theaters, lounges, and a spa and was intended to bring in affluent overnight customers who liked to do more than just gamble.

"Revel's financial reorganization will set the stage for them to more effectively compete in Atlantic City, where there is enormous positive change," said Liza Cartmell, president of the year-old Atlantic City Alliance, which is charged with rebranding the resort by focusing on non-gambling activities.

Cartmell has a key role in a five-year, $130 million "Do AC" marketing campaign. She tried to soften the impact of Revel's bankruptcy plans. She ticked off some recent accomplishments: The Borgata became the first casino in the United States to offer in-room gaming. New investors are being sought for the Atlantic Club and Trump Plaza. There is expansion at the Walk, the outlet shopping mall, and at the Steel Pier. Hotel occupancy rates have been strong. New public art programs are being introduced.

"All of these expansions and investments together are designed to accelerate the long-term growth of Atlantic City, beyond the reliance on gaming revenue," Cartmell said Wednesday. "We are still on the path to regaining our position as a tourism destination."

Under the bankruptcy filing, the $2.4 billion Revel will rely even more on creditors' money to prop it up. It intends to file for a pre-packaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy by mid-March. Bankruptcy could provide $250 million in debtor-in-possession financing, with about $45 million in new money commitments.

Revel is carrying a groaning debt load of $1.2 billion.

Guests at Revel on Tuesday said they knew the casino was having financial problems.

The bankruptcy filing came "so soon," said Vishal Vikram, 31, an IT manager from Edison, N.J., as he checked into one of Revel's 1,400 rooms for a two-night stay. "It costs a lot to build this.

"I think the problem is there are just too many casinos here and [in] other states. Many customers just want to drink and gamble and don't need a resort."


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

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