Internet Gambling, Sports Betting Helped Save Atlantic City's Colossal Casino Flop

April 1, 2022
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With a giant white sphere nicknamed “Pearl” on its roof, the Atlantic City casino that opened as Revel and is now known as Ocean Casino Resort will celebrate its tenth anniversary on Saturday after being saved by the success of internet gambling in New Jersey.

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With a giant white sphere nicknamed “Pearl” on its roof, the Atlantic City casino that opened as Revel and is now known as Ocean Casino Resort will celebrate its tenth anniversary on Saturday (April 2) after being saved by the success of internet gambling in New Jersey.

When it opened at 6:37 a.m. EST on Monday, April 2, 2012, the skies outside were dark and cloudy — an ominous sign of the tough times awaiting the $2.4bn facility touted as a savior for Atlantic City’s struggling brick-and-mortar casino industry.

Less than 27 months later, Revel’s own lawyer would describe the casino as “a melting ice cube” as it was scheduled to be put on the auction block for $50,000.

“You’re never going to have another Revel,” said Steven Perskie, who was a 31-year-old state assemblyman when he wrote the New Jersey Casino Control Act, which led to the 1978 opening of Resorts, the first casino in Atlantic City.

“Today, a successful gaming operation depends, to a great extent, on the lower cost-higher income element associated with the internet than it does with respect to the brick and mortar [casino],” added Perskie, who also chaired the New Jersey Casino Control Commission from 1990 to 1994.

Brick-and-mortar casinos in the future in most markets are likely to be much smaller than Revel, which stretches to 47 stories and occupies 20 acres on the northernmost section of Atlantic City’s legendary Boardwalk.

A trend is to build more efficient casinos that can accommodate large crowds at sportsbooks for events like the Super Bowl and March Madness, while also including enough space for technological support necessary for internet gaming operations.

“When you go to Ocean (formerly Revel) to watch March Madness games, you can’t move because it’s so crowded,” said Barbara DeMarco, a New Jersey gambling lobbyist.

“People come to casinos because they want to be with other people when they bet on and watch these games. There will always be a place for brick-and-mortar casinos in Atlantic City.”

Today, Ocean Casino Resort operates an eponymous online casino and allows its internet gaming and sports wagering licenses to be used by third-party skin partners Tipico and Parx, with another online casino skin to launch in the near future under the PlayStar Casino brand.

But when Revel opened a decade ago, there was no internet gambling or sports betting.

New Jersey launched internet gaming in November 2013 and has become the nation’s undisputed leader in the online gambling market.

The state’s success with online gambling, coupled with the legalization of sports betting in 2018, arguably saved New Jersey’s brick-and-mortar casinos, as well as its horseracing industry.

Kevin DeSanctis, a Steve Wynn protégé who was the mastermind behind Revel, hoped to duplicate the success of Borgata, which opened in July 2003 and remains Atlantic City’s most successful casino.

DeSanctis wanted customers to literally revel in the luxurious amenities of his casino and regard gambling an afterthought.

For example, in a design concept virtually unheard of in the gambling industry, Revel’s visitors had to take an escalator up one floor from the entrance to even reach the casino.

It just did not work, and by September 2014, DeSanctis abandoned Revel.

DeSantis has become the forgotten man of Atlantic City, and there are unconfirmed reports he has moved to Colorado.

“I don’t think he’s a tragic figure, and I don’t think he’s all to blame,” Perskie said. “But he was one of many who didn’t see the future.”

Revel became the fourth Atlantic City casino to go out of business in 2014, perhaps the darkest year in the 44-year history of New Jersey’s gambling history.

On April 7, 2015, an eccentric billionaire real-estate developer from Florida named Glenn Straub bought Revel for $82m.

Straub’s efforts to re-open Revel ended in February 2017 when the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, in a scathing rejection, denied his appeal to operate the facility without a gaming license.

In January 2018, things started looking up for Revel when AC Ocean Walk purchased the casino for $200m.

One year later, the New York-based hedge fund Luxor Capital Group LP bought Revel for an undisclosed price.

In renaming the casino Ocean Casino Resort the new owners announced plans to emphasize casino operations.

There are no plans to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Revel-Ocean, according to casino officials who requested anonymity.

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