Another Bet on Gambling for Atlantic City ; despite Stiff Competition, Hope Is Pinned on a New Casino and Online Wagers

By Zernike, Kate | International Herald Tribune, July 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

Another Bet on Gambling for Atlantic City ; despite Stiff Competition, Hope Is Pinned on a New Casino and Online Wagers


Zernike, Kate, International Herald Tribune


The casino industry that revived an ailing beach resort a generation ago is now itself in need of reviving.

Known simply as Revel, the newest addition to this gambling city was going to be different.

The emphasis was on luxury, with the Himalayan salt grotto in the spa, the botanic garden winding toward a rooftop pool, the Michelin chefs instead of all-you-can-eat buffets. There was no smoking in its 47 stories, and with floor-to-ceiling windows offering vistas onto the Atlantic Ocean, you could almost forget the seedier streets at its back. There was a casino, but it was self-contained on one floor, as if it were an aside. This was a resort, its promoters said, that happened to have gambling.

Little more than a year after opening, Revel is sorry. Deeply, dearly sorry.

And it is an expensive apology. As it fights its way back from bankruptcy, Revel announced that it would refund all slot losses and match all other casinos' promotions for the month of July. Revel cost $2.4 billion to open, and it has spent millions more in recent months to install diner-fare restaurants, more slot machines and air filtration systems -- because it now allows smoking, too. Buttons worn by employees and billboards along the Atlantic City Expressway declare its new slogan: "Gamblers Wanted." And its new official name: Revel Casino Hotel.

It is just another spin of the wheel in Atlantic City, where the casino industry that revived an ailing beach resort a generation ago is now itself in need of reviving. Revenues have fallen 40 percent since their peak in 2006, as new casinos in neighboring states have taken away gamblers. Revel, hailed by Governor Chris Christie as a "turning point" for the city when it opened in April 2012, lost $111 million its first year. And last year, Pennsylvania displaced Atlantic City as the gambling capital of the Eastern United States, according to the American Gaming Association.

Mr. Christie came into office with a five-year plan to turn Atlantic City around, establishing a new tourism district and a $30 million marketing campaign to promote the city as more than just a gambling destination. "Do AC," the ads encouraged, as casinos rushed to promote their nongambling attractions: concerts, shopping, a gay nightclub, the beach.

But now, the emphasis is on gambling again, as Revel attests. Mr. Christie, who offered Revel tax incentives to keep going when its financial backers threatened to halt construction, recently signed a bill allowing gamblers to place bets online with casinos in Atlantic City and is in federal court fighting to bring sports betting.

The "Do AC" campaign is taking a pop-up mock casino on a road show, setting it up in Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City to try to lure gamblers back to Atlantic City. Another casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, will bury vouchers worth $200,000 in the sand in September to try to lure the would-be lucky to dig them up -- players will have to have their Trump players' club card for a chance to win.

Above the banks of slot machines on Revel's casino floor, signs promoting the new slot refunds declare, "You Can't Lose!"

"We've made a lot of mistakes," said Jeffrey Hartmann, the interim chief executive brought in from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut to lift Revel's fortunes. (The company entered bankruptcy in March and emerged 57 days later.) "We're asking our customers for a second chance."

"To quote 'The Godfather,"' he added, "we wanted to make them an offer they couldn't refuse. If this doesn't get to them, nothing will."

Randall Fine, whose marketing company was brought in to help Revel, said that in 83 years of gambling, no casino had ever offered to refund slot money -- and little wonder, given that the rule of thumb had been that casinos make 80 percent of their profits on slots.

He could not say how much the refund would cost. …

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