Revel Is a Monument of Broken Dreams


It is official. Revel is closing September 10th. The Revel operating company says that even if a buyer is found, the property will still close as it is no longer able or willing to continue to finance the casino operations. A new buyer would have to be investigated and granted a casino license before Revel could reopen. The Associated Press reported that a number of potential buyers are in negotiations and Asbury Park Press reported that three companies are currently being vetted to determine their financial wherewithal.

Atlantic City is on track to lose four casinos in 2014. The city will also lose about 25 percent of its casino employees, the property taxes and use taxes the casinos pay. 2014 is a watershed year for Atlantic City. For investors, Atlantic City and the casino employees, Revel and the other closed Atlantic City casinos have made the boardwalk a place of broken dreams.

The year, 2014, may be the most important year for the city’s casinos since Resorts first opened 36 years ago on May 26, 1978. Everyone interested in the casino industry knows the Atlantic City story. For the first 30 years of its existence, the casino industry in Atlantic City was an enormous success. However, in 2006 Pennsylvania authorized casinos with slot machines and table games were added in 2010. There are now 26000 slot machines and 1,000 table games in Pennsylvania. Before 2006, over 50 percent of the gamblers in Atlantic City came from Pennsylvania. Since 2006, casinos revenues have dropped by 50 percent. The former customers from Pennsylvania stay home to gamble now, as do customers from New York, Ohio, Maryland and soon Massachusetts.

Revel is unique in many ways among Atlantic City casinos. Like, the Black Threat Inn in Sinclair Lewis’ Work of Art, Revel was envisioned in a completely different era from the one it entered. Revel was a vision, a dream of the pre-recession world. In that world, everyone had cash – lots of cash. If they spent their money, it was easy to make more. People made money in real estate, the stock market, commodities and foreign currency exchange. It was an era when anything and everything could be purchased and resold at a profit. It was a crazy, wild and reckless time and it was characterized by a complete lack of restraint. Steve Wynn described the developers during this time as spending “like drunken sailors.”

Revel was built for those people, those drunken sailors. They had buckets of cash and exotic tastes. And there were no casinos built to cater to them. Revel was to be their casino, disdaining the common gambler, but giving the free spending elite everything they wanted. However, on the way to the bank, the recession hit. Those people simply ceased to exist. What money people had, they saved and protected. People stopped gambling in real estate and on Wall Street. If they did go to a casino, they spent less and are still spending less. By the time Revel opened in March, 2012, its target audience had disappeared. And dozens and dozens of casinos had opened in surrounding states. Those new casinos were in the process of eating Atlantic City’s lunch.

Revel took too long to develop and it cost too much. It would not have mattered, however, since the results would have been the same. The recession and the explanation would have happened regardless of when Revel opened. The recession changed consumer behavior and the new casinos have taken half of Atlantic City’s customers. Revel was a grand dream, but it was destined to fail from the moment it was conceived.

Observers and Wall Street analysts have had the solution for a couple of years; some casinos need to close. I have even been guilty of saying the same thing. When you live far away and your life is unrelated to the events in Atlantic City, the “some casinos need to close” rolls easily off the tongue. The person making the statement is thinking of an improved Atlantic City with fewer casinos, downsized to fit the market. In that vision, everyone is happy, healthy and planning for a brighter future. The picture leaves out a couple of details. What happens to those closed, deserted and empty buildings? What happens to the 3000 employees who will be looking for work?

Revel is a huge, shiny tower sitting on the beach; it will be impossible to ignore. Closed, it will stand like a $2.4 billion billboard for failure and bad times in Atlantic City. It doesn’t sound very friendly or inviting to me. Of course, someone may buy it. It may get repurposed. One analyst suggested senior housing or it may open again as a casino. There are many possibilities, but until something happens, Revel will be a very ugly reminder of the recession, increased competition, unbridled enthusiasm and thousands of broken dreams.

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