Is this AC casino cursed?
TRENTON — Is the former Revel Casino Hotel cursed? It’s starting to look that way, as new rumors about financial trouble are blooming and the Colorado-based owner has gone MIA.
The dream that was Revel, then TEN, then Ocean Resort, actually began a quarter-century ago. Land to build it wasn’t secured until 2006, when Morgan Stanley plunked down $70 million. The project was plagued with problems from the start, and Morgan Stanley dumped its investment at a loss in 2010 as the Atlantic City economy began its spiral downward.
Then-Gov. Chris Christie rescued the project in 2011 with more than $200 million in state money. However, as construction resumed, there were more bad omens. The building was hit by lightning, killing one worker and injuring two others. Workers sued because they weren’t being paid. Christie kept pushing the project forward, believing Revel would trigger a rebirth in the struggling city.
Beyoncé led a star-studded grand opening in 2012 attended by then-First Lady Michelle Obama. Again, there were problems. While other casinos were seeing an increase in revenue, Revel immediately started losing tens of millions of dollars every month and filed for bankruptcy in 2013. Revel officially closed in 2014, barely two years after opening.
Flamboyant and eccentric Florida real estate developer Glenn Straub bought Revel for pennies on the dollar, and in 2015 floated all kinds of possibilities including a medical tourism center and a so-called "genius institute." Straub’s efforts were also plagued with problems. He fought with Atlantic City politicians, gaming regulators, private vendors, and utility companies. For almost two years, Straub teased with promises of opening. He never did. His dream of TEN died in 2018 when the property was sold to Colorado developer Bruce Deifik.
Deifik proved more adept at navigating politics in Atlantic City. He was hailed as a savior, and his newly-named Ocean Resort Casino was to be the cornerstone of a rebirth. Deifik paid only $85 million for a property valued at over $1 billion that cost $2.4 billion to build. When it opened last June, Ocean Resort faced immediate competition from the new Hard Rock Casino and an aggressive marketing campaign from the longer-established Borgata. Ocean Resort has struggled to book top-name entertainment, with most going to the established Hard Rock brand. Borgata still takes the biggest share of high-end gamblers.
That brings us to today. Rumors and reports of trouble are growing louder. Ocean Resort continues to take in the smallest slice of the gaming revenue pie, yet has one of the highest debt loads. Deifik, who is usually very chatty with reporters, won’t return phone calls and has canceled public events in Atlantic City. Gaming regulators say they are unaware of any problems, but some are concerned the property is headed for bankruptcy ... again.
Between 2014 and 2016, five casinos closed in Atlantic City as the gaming industry contracted. Ocean Resort and Hard Rock were to lead the recovery of an industry that once generated close to $6 billion in revenue. So far, only one is living up to the hype, leaving gaming experts to wonder if the former Revel, TEN, and now Ocean Resort is doomed once again.
Eric Scott is Vice President, Senior Political Director and Director of Special Projects for New Jersey 101.5. He anchors "New Jersey's First News" and weekday morning newscasts from 5 to 10 a.m., in addition to hosting a monthly Town Hall series.
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