Updated May 9 and May 30, 2018
Hard Rock Atlantic City is moving full speed ahead in preparation for a June 28 opening date, and as of Wednesday, May 9, is another major step closer toward meeting that goal. The Casino Control Commission has officially approved the new hotel and casino for a casino license.
Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen first announced the June 28 opening date at a widely publicized press conference on April 18. He also stated that the opening date of June 28 “is 100 percent set in stone.”
What he did not say, however, is that the target date is contingent not only on all renovations being completed by then but also on the casino being granted its license and the building passing all inspections.
Now, with its license secure, Hard Rock is well on the way to meeting the deadline. But what about the other new casino in Atlantic City, Ocean Resort Casino? Is it doing the same?
Surely one thing that Hard Rock wasn’t planning on for June 28 was having company. More specifically, with so little time and so much still to do, the possibility that Ocean Resort Casino could choose the same exact day, either coincidentally or on purpose, was probably the last thing on Allen’s mind.
Hard Rock AC assumed it would be first
Ever since Hard Rock officially revealed its opening date at its April 18 press conference, the question of the day suddenly shifted to when Ocean Resort Casino would be opening. Hard Rock wasn’t privy, any more than the rest of us were, to advance information. However, from its standpoint, as long as Hard Rock was up and running first, Ocean Resort Casino’s opening date didn’t matter.
Hard Rock, the first new Atlantic City casino to announce an opening date in 2018, was primed to be the first new casino to open in Atlantic City in 2018. And from the way the head honchos were talking, nothing was going to get in their way.
A rumor at Ocean Resort Casino becomes a roar
Even after the Hard Rock opening date was announced, for a whole week, the only answer that appeared to be forthcoming about when Ocean Resort Casino would be opening was the same one we were given all along. Ocean Resort Casino will open “this summer.”
Then a rumor started and spread, and on Wednesday, April 25, it became the Press of Atlantic City headline of the day: “Ocean Resort Casino aiming for June 28 opening, same day as Hard Rock.”
Multiple newly hired employees reportedly contacted the Press, stating that they signed an agreement to report to work on June 11 in anticipation of a June 28 opening date for the property. June 11 and June 28 were reportedly the only two dates mentioned.
So why weren’t top officials informed at the same time?
On the other hand, Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam and City Council President Marty Small both said that as of late April, when the Press of Atlantic City contacted them on the matter, that they had received no official notification that Ocean Resort Casino was going to open June 28.
Likewise, Dale Finch, director of the Atlantic City Department of Licensing and Inspections, indicated that he had not yet been given an exact opening date for Ocean Resort either. However, he visited the property recently and admitted to there being “a lot of activity” there.
No longer a rumor: June 28 opening date confirmed
Two weeks later, on Monday, May 7, Ocean Resort Casino finally confirmed that the new facility will indeed open June 28, the same day as Hard Rock Atlantic City. In the words of CEO Frank Leone, Ocean Resort will be a “culmination of all our planning and … a special day for Atlantic City as it turns the page on a new chapter of revitalization.”
Ocean Resort Casino is determined not to repeat the kinds of mistakes that led to the failure of its predecessor, the Revel. Bruce Deifik, chairman of parent company AC Ocean Walk, wants to assure the public that its team has “put a great deal of time and effort into creating a truly unique and memorable destination guest experience.”
Ocean Resort Casino still lacks a license
Even so, a June 28 opening date can only happen with a license. And Ocean Resort Casino is still waiting for one.
An application for a license has been filed, which is currently under review. However, to date, the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) has yet to complete its report. The mandatory hearing before the Casino Control Commission has yet to be scheduled.
Can Ocean Resort open after six months of renovations?
If Ocean Resort Casino can be fully licensed and ready to open June 28, congratulations are in order.
After developer Glenn Straub purchased the shuttered $2.4 billion Revel in August 2015 for the bargain price of $82 million, the property just sat there languishing for nearly 2 ½ years. Although Straub promised the moon, actions speak louder than words, and nothing happened. And from the look of things, it appeared that the property then named TEN would never open. Straub’s insistence that he didn’t need to apply for a license personally because he planned to lease the running of a casino to a third party was a major reason.
Then, suddenly, out of the blue, in January 2018, under the leadership of Colorado-based investor Bruce Deifik, the property was sold for $200 million to a company called AC Ocean Walk and renamed Ocean Resort Casino.
Hard Rock International acquired the former Trump Taj Mahal over a year ago in March, 2017. It has since spent more than $500 million on top of the $50 million purchase price to completely transform the property.
In comparison, Ocean Resort Casino’s renovation needs and budget were nowhere near as extensive. But even so, taking a property that was a failure from day one and turning it into a brand new one that can carve a niche for itself in an already crowded and very competitive market in the span of just six months would be an amazing feat.
A look inside at Ocean Resort Casino
Assuming Ocean Resort succeeds — and its recently announced partnership with Hyatt should help greatly — here is a brief summary of what guests and players can look forward to at the new facility.
The aptly named Ocean Resort Casino will be a full-service resort overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, at the far north end of the Boardwalk. The Atlantic City City Council has already given initial approval to have the street called Revel Boulevard renamed Ocean Beach Boulevard and that section of the city renamed Ocean Beach in lieu of Revel Beach.
The 138,00-square-foot casino floor is expected to offer 2,200 machines and 100 table games, while the hotel will have 1,399 rooms. Other promised amenities include 13 restaurants, nightclubs, a concert hall seating 5,700, five pools, a spa and fitness center, and a parking garage large enough to accommodate 7,000 vehicles. There will also be ample space for retail shopping, conventions, and special outdoor events.
In addition, a deal was made just last week with Topgolf Swing Suite to offer the world’s largest virtual golf experience, including 11 simulation bays, a lounge, and panoramic ocean views.
Most importantly, now that sports betting has become legal in New Jersey, Ocean Resort Casino plans to be ready as soon as possible with an easily accessible state-of-the-art sportsbook in the middle of the casino floor. The renowned sportsbook operator William Hill has signed on as a partner in this project. Ocean Resort Casino also plans to launch its own NJ gambling website in the future.
Dual openings on June 28: good or bad?
Assuming both casinos do open simultaneously on June 28, as scheduled, which will open first and which will open second remains to be seen. Either way, I can’t imagine that Hard Rock Atlantic City is happy about having its competitor open on the same day. I’m not in favor of the idea either. I think Ocean Resort Casino not only needs more time but can benefit greatly by observing the reaction to Hard Rock’s opening.
The people turning the currently closed Revel Casino Hotel into Ocean Resort Casino are planning to do more than just reopen the once-failed hotel and casino on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in the summer of 2018.
They’re now looking to take the casino brand online as well. Considering the online gambling industry pulled in a record $245.6 million in gross revenue in 2017, who can blame them?
The problems Revel Casino Hotel ran into are well documented. The $2.4 billion upscale casino resort started having issues with finances and labor during construction. In fact, these issues led to numerous delays, and the scope of the project was scaled back significantly.
It did finally open on April 2, 2012. However, owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection twice in its first two years of operation. Ultimately, Revel Casino Hotel was forced to close its doors on Sept. 2, 2014.
A deal was struck to sell the property to Brookfield Asset Management at auction for $110 million. However, that deal never came to fruition. Instead, on April 7, 2015, Florida developer Glenn Straub bought Revel out of bankruptcy for pennies on the dollar. In fact, Straub paid just $82 million for the $2.4 billion resort.
Straub renamed it TEN and set and missed several reopening dates over the next two years. He simply refused to apply for a casino license state regulators said he needed and never managed to reopen Revel as a result.
TEN’s social casino website
Straub did manage to get a social casino website up and running in 2017. Play.TenACNJ.com, a partnership between Straub and international online casino software giant GAN, offers play money casino games.
It was supposed to lay the groundwork for a real-money New Jersey gambling website that would launch when TEN finally opened. But it never did.
A Colorado-based development group called AC Ocean Walk announced in early January 2018 it had bought the former Revel from Straub for $200 million. It also announced it would be renaming the property Ocean Resort Casino and opening in the summer of 2018.
Soon after, AC Ocean Walk and GAN also announced plans get in New Jersey’s real money regulated online gaming market. The companies said they were looking to start operations as early as the first half of 2018. Which means the online gambling website could possibly open before Ocean Resort Casino does.
Still, one question remains: What exactly will the Ocean Resort Casino online gambling site look like?
The easy answer is that it will likely look similar to the online gambling site already using GAN software in New Jersey: Betfair Casino.
Betfair and GAN
GAN has been offering turnkey software solutions for online gambling operators around the world since 2012. They have been providing New Jersey’s Betfair Casino with online gambling software since the site launched in November 2013.
Betfair first launched under Trump Plaza’s internet gambling license. However, when Trump Plaza shut its doors in September 2014, Betfair went looking for a new home.
It found one with Caesars Interactive Entertainment, but that was just temporary. Soon after, the site found a permanent home operating under Golden Nugget Atlantic City’s online gambling license.
Originally, Betfair had an online poker site as well. However, it shut down operations in December 2014. The site used Betfair’s own software as GAN doesn’t provide online poker software through its platform.
Clearly, Ocean Resort Casino will have to look outside of its partnership with GAN if online poker is part of its online gambling wish list.
However, when it comes to online slots and table games, GAN has it all, and the Ocean Resort Casino online product is likely to feature similar titles to what players find on Betfair.
Betfair is known for providing the most unique content in the NJ online gambling market. The site boasts the largest collection of exclusive game titles in the market. Most of these are GAN games, and Betfair may be forced to give up a lot of that exclusivity with Ocean Resort Casino becoming a second NJ online gambling website using the GAN platform.
Third-party software developers at Ocean Resort
Betfair also has enjoyed a number of third-party partnerships that provide the website with additional game titles. Ocean Resort Casino will likely strike similar partnerships with third-party software developers in an effort to keep up with the rest of the NJ online casino industry and the hundreds of game titles each website offers.
Betfair currently gives players the chance to play more than 150 slots, 12 table games, and eight different types of video poker. In the NJ online gambling website market, this is baseline stuff. Ocean Resort Casino will need to start with at least that.
Without all the top-grossing online slot titles and classic casino games such as blackjack and roulette, Ocean Resort Casino will have a tough time competing in the market. Since it won’t start out with the name recognition some other brands in the market enjoy, at the very least they’re going to have to offer a competitive product, and that means including the most popular game types.
Betfair has always been the exclusive online home to games such as Hi-Lo Solitare and PokerBet in New Jersey. It may want to keep things that way. That would force Ocean Resort Casino to look elsewhere for its own exclusive titles.
Ocean Resort and legal sports betting
Ocean Resort Casino developers have claimed an interest in building a state-of-the-art sportsbook on the property in anticipation of New Jersey gaining the right to offer legalized sports betting from the US Supreme Court in 2018.
Its partnership with GAN for online gambling operations will also have it ready to be one of the first online gambling websites in the state to offer sports betting.
GAN launched a strategic relationship with sports betting solutions provider SBTech in early 2018. It plans to integrate SBTech sports betting software into its platform everywhere it can. If the sports betting market opens, an Ocean Resort Casino online gambling site will be part of it.
Things such as marketing, branding, and promotions will likely remain different between the two GAN-powered NJ online gambling websites. But there’s very little doubt Ocean Resort Casino will launch with an interface similar to Betfair’s. Plus, players can expect to find relatively similar functionality on both the desktop and mobile app clients.
Partnering with GAN to launch a real-money online gambling website means Ocean Resort Casino wants a tried and true software solution to cover the basic operations. The rest will be up to them.
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino won’t be the only new casino expected to open by the summer of 2018 in New Jersey. With the recent acquisition of the closed former Revel, the property that never turned a profit in its two years of operation will finally, hopefully, be given new life.
Ocean Resort Casino — with a new name and new owner — could actually be the next Atlantic City casino to open.
Brief history of the former Revel
The $2.4 billion Revel will go down in history as one of the worst casino gambling failures of all time. To no one’s surprise, it was one of the four Atlantic City casino closing casualties of 2014, and the loss of jobs from that casino-hotel alone totaled more than 3,000.
However, in August, 2015, developer Glenn Straub purchased the shuttered property from bankruptcy for the bargain price of $82 million, only to do nothing with it. That was despite Straub having such lofty expectations for the facility that he renamed it TEN. Like any other prospective casino owner in Atlantic City, Straub was required to apply for a license.
However, he refused to do so on the grounds that he would not be running the casino himself but would be leasing its operation to a third party. His long, costly, and ultimately unsuccessful court battle with the Casino Control Commission over this issue contributed to TEN not opening on schedule multiple times.
Given those circumstances and no indication of any progress, the odds of TEN ever actually opening became increasingly remote. Then, in January 2018, those odds plummeted to zero as a new buyer snapped up the property.
Colorado firm buys Revel/TEN from Straub
The former Revel, briefly known as TEN, changed hands again. In January 2018 it was sold to AC Ocean Walk, led by a Colorado-based investor Bruce Deifik, for $200 million.
When the hotel and casino reopen, the property will have a new name, Ocean Resort Casino. According to a report from Moody’s Investors, the new owners expect to invest an additional $175 million on top of the $200 million purchase price to get the property ready for a summer 2018 opening. Deifik is also the president and CEO of Integrated Properties, which owns multiple office and retail centers in metropolitan Denver and Phoenix.
A total of at least 2,500 new jobs are expected to become available with the opening of Ocean Resort Casino.
What Ocean Resort Casino is expected to offer the public
Ocean Resort Casino will be a full service resort. The casino will have 100 table games and 2,200 machines. Additional resort amenities are expected to include 1,399 hotel rooms, 13 restaurants, nightclubs, pools and a spa. The restaurants may include some of the more successful ones that previously operated at the Revel.
The 55,000-square-feet of retail space, 165,000-square-feet space for conventions, 5,700-seat concert hall, and parking garage for 7,000 vehicles will be retained as well. If New Jersey wins its case in the US Supreme Court to legalize sports betting in the state, Deifik also hopes to open a sportsbook on the premises.
Deifik doesn’t seem at all fazed by Revel’s bleak history, stating that his firm is “incredibly excited that we were able to take advantage of the opportunity to acquire this tremendous property at a time when Atlantic City is seeing great economic strides.”
He attributed the failure of the Revel to the fact that it “opened at a time when Atlantic City was still in economic recovery, and operationally it just did not cater to the customer base for this destination.”
Which will open first — Ocean Resort Casino or Hard Rock AC?
As for which casino will open first, Ocean Resort or Hard Rock, that remains to be seen. Obviously, both are hoping to be up and running in time for the big summer crowds. Having both resorts open should be mutually beneficial, too, since their close geographic proximity will assure spillover between the two casinos.
Ever since Hard Rock International purchased the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort from Carl Icahn, there has been widespread optimism for Atlantic City’s future.
Hard Rock AC has been approved by the Casino Control Commission to run the casino. The resort seems to be moving ahead, as projected, toward a summer opening. In fact, Hard Rock Atlantic City recently held a job fair specifically for former Taj employees in order to give them first consideration. About 1,400 applicants showed up for interviews.
Another encouraging sign is that both Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino have applied for a NJ online gambling license. Since we foresee no reason why these requests should not be approved, this is especially good news for njgamblingwebsites.com readers.
Will two new casinos help or hurt Atlantic City?
The prospect of having two new casinos, instead of simply more news of another one closing, sounds great for Atlantic City.
However, some experts are concerned that the sudden appearance of two new large casinos could backfire. They feel that nine casinos may be too many for Atlantic City. The presence of two new ones could upset the equilibrium that took a long time to reestablish and ultimately lead to a new wave of casino closings.
I have followed Atlantic City’s ups and downs closely since the inception of casino gambling there in 1978 and have lived in nearby Absecon since 2013. Therefore, I feel I am qualified to offer my opinion on the matter. I have to disagree with the naysayers.
I personally believe that the addition of two new casinos will be good for Atlantic City. One very positive outcome will be the creation of thousands of new jobs. However, ultimately a lot will depend on how well these new casinos are run.
On the one hand, each of these casino resorts must offer something unique and special that the other Atlantic City casinos do not. Hard Rock clearly succeeds in this area, as the Hard Rock brand and what it stands for is known worldwide. However, Ocean Resort Casino is a big question mark. The owners and management of Revel also had some innovative ideas, but they weren’t practical and were poorly executed.
In order for a casino property to succeed, it also needs to offer what today’s players want. Otherwise, the novelty will wear off and so will attendance. Hopefully, Ocean Resort Casino will offer the right combination of newness and relevance to resonate with many AC residents and visitors.