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Revelation for Atlantic City In opening his casino, DeSanctis emphasizes amenities over gaming

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Revel Entertainment CEO Kevin DeSanctis says his Atlantic City casino is a broader entertainment destination that won't be reliant on gaming revenue.
Revel Entertainment CEO Kevin DeSanctis says his Atlantic City casino is a broader entertainment destination that won't be reliant on gaming revenue.

First-time guests at Revel will find what may seem unusual for Atlantic City, the South Jersey gaming destination.

The hotel check-in is on the 11th floor — five floors above a single slot machine, blackjack table or any other piece of its casino floor.

That's not an accident, according to Revel Entertainment CEO Kevin DeSanctis.

"It's always bothered me when I see people check in wherever their hotel lobby is, and they're forced to walk right through the casino to their room," DeSanctis said. "I think it's a design that is based on some thought processes from the past, and I don't think it really addresses today's guest."

A separate lobby is just one piece of the puzzle for the palatial, 6.3 million-square-foot resort, which opened to the public in April. Since that time, the message from DeSanctis has been clear: Revel is not just another casino, but a broader destination for entertainment seekers, spa goers and resort visitors of all kinds.

Industry experts say the model is the first of its kind in Atlantic City, where gaming revenues have been in free fall since 2007. Citywide winnings even fell 9.5 percent last month, despite Revel's lengthy preview period and its official Memorial Day weekend grand opening.

But the new resort hopes to sidestep the rising competition from gaming markets like Pennsylvania and Maryland through its unique set of amenities, including the way it embraces its beachfront location. "It's clear that you're targeting a different kind of a guest," said Israel Posner, a professor at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, in Galloway.

"The total experience, in terms of the lifestyle that it represents, is completely different than anything that has been done in the Atlantic City market, and certainly anything in the regional market," said Posner, who is executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at the college's business school.

Posner said Revel also sets itself apart by embracing the beach as one of its amenities. The resort's options include a series of outdoor patio areas, a four-level nightclub that reaches the roof and a planned "day club" along the Boardwalk.

DeSanctis said he believes Atlantic City "is the one location where you can actually evolve into a much broader destination," an idea rooted in the 25 years he's spent as a casino executive, including Las Vegas casinos like The Mirage, at which he oversaw casino operations when it opened in 1989.

"Clearly some of the things that we've done are influenced by Las Vegas," DeSanctis said, noting his work with developers like Steve Wynn, who built The Mirage. But, he added, "I think we looked a bit broader," pointing to Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas, "a true resort" that he oversaw as an executive with Sun International Hotels.

DeSanctis said he has "tried to take from those experiences" and refine them as he set out to "have a broader reach to the resort customer."

Whether the plan is successful in Atlantic City remains to be seen, but "it's definitely what worked for Las Vegas," said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He said the average strip casino only gets about 38 percent of its revenue from gaming, a trend that goes back 20 years.

"The Mirage in 1989, that was really the first one," Schwartz said. "And if you look, since then, most of the major developments have had a big nongaming focus."

Hoping to back up his words, DeSanctis welcomed casino executives and stakeholders for last month's East Coast Gaming Congress, in which he laid out his plan for making Revel "an experience company" that's not too dependent on any one segment. The resort aims to have 20 percent of its yearly occupancy come from group business, he said, and about 30 percent from leisure business, which will draw from its 14 restaurants, spa and nightlife. The other 50 percent would come from gaming, DeSanctis said — a model that doesn't exist elsewhere in the city, but one he believes the company has "built the facility to align with."

"You can't just say that you want more markets … and not build something that aligns with that," he said. "It just doesn't work that way. You could wish for it, but wishing isn't a great strategy. So when we built Revel, we thought about those things."

Yet despite his mantra of being well rounded, Revel's CEO has not kept quiet about some of the key gaming issues that the state now faces. Like other casino executives, he feels "we're missing the boat" if New Jersey doesn't legalize Internet gaming.

DeSanctis also called it "bizarre" that the federal government has not lifted its ban on sports betting. While he doesn't feel it will be a huge economic driver, he said wagering on games would be another important amenity for visitors to Revel, such as in Las Vegas.

"It's not about the betting. It's about the environment and the fun," DeSanctis said. "That's really what that's all about. It's no different than a Super Bowl party."

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @JoshBurdNJ

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