The Casino File: Ocean Casino Resort writing a great Atlantic City comeback story
The news that the family behind a national delivery-pizza empire is buying half of the upscale gaming hall can be interpreted as more proof of its remarkable revival.
Earlier this week, Atlantic City’s casino-gaming industry was hit with the bolt-from-the-blue news that the Detroit-based Ilitch family of Little Caesars Pizza fame is buying 50 percent of Ocean Casino Resort from its current owner Luxor Capital Group LP, a New York-based hedge fund.
Little—including the price--has been divulged about the sale that awaits state approval, but the cost isn’t nearly as significant as the transaction itself, as it all but confirms that Ocean has pulled off a near-Biblical feat of resurrection.
Ocean, of course, began life in April 2012 as Revel, a massive and posh, $2.4 billion adult playpen boasting breathtaking architecture light years ahead of any other AyCee gambling den past or present. Unfortunately, it also debuted with a senior management team that seemingly ran things according to a playbook called How Not to Open an Atlantic City Casino.
Although it had a CEO with years of experience in Atlantic City, Revel entered the fray with a strategy that was perplexing and ultimately fatal.
For instance, there was no buffet (there still isn’t), no players’ lounges and no tiered rewards-card system. Another nail in Revel’s coffin was its admirable (but illogical) status as 100-percent smoke-free. And its primary target audience was, apparently, not comprised of the kinds of gamblers who keep any casino’s lights on, but some more-imagined-than-real cohort of rich-and-trendy millennials and Gen Xers from New York City—which probably explains the insane price points in place at the time (I distinctly remember a $62 bill for four of us who had but coffee and Danish in the casual-dining room).
Making matters exponentially worse, Revel, which was first announced in 2005 at the zenith of Atlantic City’s run as a casino capital, opened when the town was in the midst of having its financial lunch eaten by Southeastern Pennsylvania’s casinos, which had been in business a few years. Thus, it was no surprise that what should have been the crown jewel of AyCee’s gambling universe instead became an icon of massive failure upon its closing a mere 29 months after its debut.
There’s no need to rehash the property’s roller coaster ride to the present day. That info is just a couple keystrokes away for those who are interested. The point is that a sharp management team led by CEO Terry Glebocki (one of three women currently running casinos there) that is completely tuned into the Atlantic City market, has engineered what is arguably the city’s greatest individual comeback story.
Today, Ocean—which physically has changed little since its days as Revel--is not just surviving, but thriving. According to the Associated Press, in the first nine months of 2020 (the only figures released by the state so far), it ranked sixth (out of nine) in overall gaming revenue, but third when online earnings are removed from the equation. And, more impressively, Ocean was—at least for the first nine months of last year--the sole AyCee property to show a profit in that COVID-ravaged year.
All of that obviously made it attractive to the Ilitch family, which also owns Detroit’s MotorCity Casino Hotel as well as the city’s baseball Tigers and hockey Red Wings, and which clearly sees Ocean as a shrewd investment.
What is also clear is that Ocean is writing an unprecedented story that, given its history, few, if any could have seen coming.