ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — After a flood of TV advertising and a two-month preview period aimed more at working out glitches than showing off its full capabilities, Atlantic City's newest casino resort is fully unpacked — and eager to show it can be a big moneymaker.
The $2.4 billion Revel, being counted on to help turn around Atlantic City's five-year losing streak, is holding its grand opening — highlighted by four concerts by Beyonce, her first performances since having a baby in January.
"Rehearsal is over," said CEO Kevin DeSanctis. "Now is when we need to generate revenue and do all the things we need to do to be successful."
Hotel rooms that had been dark are now furnished and ready to rent. Restaurants that were still not quite ready now are.
Revel expects more than 100,000 people to come through its doors Friday through Monday. Many of those who had already done so, during a preview period that began with the casino's opening April 2, came away impressed.
"It's awesome, it's gorgeous," said Kristen Romano, 22, of Point Pleasant Beach, who was playing a "Sex And The City" slot machine this week. "Every time I see something here, I want to take it home with me."
Revel is marketing itself as a lifestyle resort, a vacation and meeting mecca that just happens to offer casino gambling as well. It's in keeping with the new thinking in Atlantic City, the nation's second-largest gambling market that has taken a pounding over the last five years from the recession and a slew of new casinos popping up all around it in neighboring states.
Gambling revenue has fallen from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $3.3 billion last year. Given that, Atlantic City is trying to remake itself into a place where gourmet restaurants, top-name concerts, spas and luxurious hotel rooms are just as important as slot machines and cards.
Revel also has to kick its finances into high gear. It won $13.4 million from gamblers in April, ranking it 8th out of Atlantic City's 12 casinos.
DeSanctis said those numbers were compiled when Revel was much more focused on making sure systems, equipment and policies worked well. About 1,200 hotel rooms will be open as of the holiday weekend. When fully open later this year, it will have just under 1,900 rooms.
Revel also is Atlantic City's only smoke-free casino resort; the other 11 allow smoking on 25 percent of the casino floor.
It also embraces the ocean rather than turning its back on it the way many of its competitors do. It makes more use of sunlight and sweeping views of the beach and ocean than the other eight Boardwalk casinos, which were designed to keep gamblers fixated on, well, gambling. Thoughts of wandering outside to smell the salt air were left to those whose money was gone.
But at Revel, you can see the ocean from at least part of the casino floor, a no-no in other places.
It has 2,450 slot machines and 160 table games. But gambling is only part of the business plan; Revel also has a luxurious spa, 14 restaurants, 10 pools, and a theater with 5,050 seats that has already hosted Maroon Five and The Black Keys. Upcoming shows include Kid Rock, Seal and Barry Manilow.
The project had to overcome a slew of difficulties to make it to the grand opening. It ran out of money halfway through before new financing could be found; state tax assistance helped push it across the finish line.
Three key executives working on the project died in a Minnesota plane crash in July 2008; a worker pouring concrete was struck by lightning and killed last September.
The casino also drew criticism for its policy, unique in Atlantic City, of limiting many customer service jobs to terms of four to six years, after which workers will have to re-apply. DeSanctis said the rule is to prevent workers from becoming apathetic and indifferent to the needs of Revel's guests.
And unions have sparred with it for years. The Teamsters, the United Auto Workers, and Local 54 of the Unite HERE union have started a unionization drive at Revel, whose dealers, hotel workers, beverage servers and others are not represented by a union.
The AFL-CIO in New Jersey and Pennsylvania has called on the casino to let its workers decide as easily as possible whether to be represented by a union.