Revel becomes fourth Atlantic City casino to close this year

Posted Sep 9, 2014 by Nathan Salant
New Jersey's massive Revel Casino Hotel, a gambling behemoth billed as the key to revitalizing Atlantic City's faltering casinos, shut down completely Tuesday despite state intervention and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives.
The Revel casino hotel in Atlantic City  N.J.  is shown in June 2011.
The Revel casino hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., is shown in June 2011.
Stinkie Pinkie
The 57-story steel tower -- the second-tallest building in New Jersey -- stood silently as gamblers and employees left for the last time, one day after the shutdown of the hotel portion of the gleaming, north boardwalk complex.
What was expected to sparked a recovery had become yet another drag on the resort city's economy, as thousands of jobs were lost.
"It's a sad and bittersweet thing," a bartender leaving for good told The Inquirer newspaper from nearby Philadelphia.
Revel had planned to be a luxury tourist attraction on its own -- it's casino was on the sixth floor, away from the bustle and hustle of the famed boardwalk -- but failed to generate enough interest from visitors seeking top-of-the-line digs or from gamblers, who were not permitted to smoke at the tables.
Revel's announcement in August that it would close in September came as two other casinos -- the Showboat and Trump Plaza -- announced their planned closures this month, too.
The Atlantic Club closed in January.
“I’m certainly not ready to throw in the towel on this," New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, said in August after the closure announcements," the newspaper said.
"We have a lot of work to do,” he said.
But what else Christie is able to do remains far from clear.
The governor, still a possible candidate to lead the Republican Party's 2016 presidential campaign, had played a major role in getting the Revel to open in the first place after financing dried up in 2010, the newspaper said.
“The completion of Revel and its opening is a turning point for Atlantic City and a clear sign that people once again have faith in the city’s ability to come back,” Christie said at the casino's grand opening in 2012, which included a performance by megastar Beyoncé.
Now, the Revel's shutdown appears to open the governor up to criticism from fellow conservatives who warned against permitting government promote gambling and to support a risky, private venture, the newspaper said.
Yet even many of those who backed Christie's efforts at first now criticize him for listening to Wall Street investors rather than his predecessor, Democrat Jon Corzine, or local labor unions who warned against opening a multibillion-dollar casino in a troubled economy and with new competition from neighboring states.
“He got duped,” Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54, which represents 9,000 casino workers, told the newspaper.
The warnings, McDevitt said, "fell on deaf ears -- they're all complicit in it.”
But Christie supporters also say the governor did a great job to get the Revel opened and running after the half-built complex lost its financing just before he took office in 2010.
Instead of leaving a half-built shell on the city's boardwalk, Christie lured new investors with more than $250 million in tax incentives (which could only be claimed when the Revel made money) and got the facility opened.
Even opposition politicians supported Christie's plans, the newspaper said.
But the Atlantic City casino revenue model, dependent on gamblers from nearby states arriving by bus for a few hours, only was generating about half the income it had 10 years before.
And that was not enough.
The city itself, a tourist mecca decades ago before falling on hard times, still did not generate enough revenue from the casinos to rebuilt and remained a gritty and decaying, prompting casino owners to try to keep tourists inside or on the boardwalk.
"That was a Las Vegas mentality," Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian told the newspaper.
Casino operators did little to promote redevelopment in the city, preferring to keep tourist dollars for themselves.
As a result, Atlantic City saw some growth, but not nearly enough, according to Elizabeth Cartmell of the Atlantic City Alliance marketing group.
Slot machine revenue has increased less than 9 percent since 2001 even though there are 50 percent more machines in the region, Cartmell told the newspaper.
“What you see is a clear shifting in where the dollars are being spent,” she said.
The average visitor to Atlantic City stays 11 hours but the average visitor to Las Vegas stays three nights, casino lobbyist William Pascrell III told the newspaper.