The Casino File: Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino Resort celebrates 5th birthday—and an unprecedented resurrection
On June 28, Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino- Resort officially marks its fifth anniversary. For the next couple of months, there will be plenty of reminders of the auspicious occasion. Among them:
The refurbishing of 294 hotel rooms (across seven floors) to bring them in line, décor-wise, with the 460 deluxe “Blu” units that debuted last year. Also in the works are two multi-level suites to be used exclusively by the property’s highest-rolling customers.
The June 30 opening of what’s been dubbed “Birthday Bar” on the site of 1927 Lounge on the casino floor. The saloon, which will operate through Labor Day (Sept. 4), will be christened at 9 p.m. with the help of James Kennedy, star of Bravo’s popular Vanderpump Rules series.
The recent debut of two stores, Bottled Wine, Spirits & Tastings and Wave. Bottled is a state-of-the-art wine retailer (it also sells meats and cheeses) featuring an Enomatic machine, which allows patrons to buy 1-to-5-ounce glasses of wine in order to help them decide what to purchase. Wave deals in cutting-edge electronics and household gadgets.
Fireworks displays beginning June 30 at 9:30 p.m. and continuing every Friday in July (the July 7 program also features synchronized drones).
Various giveaways, promotions and drawings for rewards-card holders totaling some $5 million in value.
A full slate of entertainment offerings including five sold-out shows by Matt Rife, currently the hottest standup comic in the solar system, and an every-summer-Sunday-afternoon residency by Magical Mystery Doors, whose 2022 warm-weather stint at Ocean was proclaimed the country’s best casino show-biz attraction by USA Today.
Hitting the five-year-mark in the always-cutthroat Atlantic City gaming market is, in itself, cause for celebration. But Ocean is also in the process of writing the most improbable comeback story in the 45 years of legal casinos in AyCee.
The building—erected at a cost of $2.4 billion--began life in April 2012 as Revel, which, its principals promised, would launch a brand-new era in the seaside gaming capital. But without going into too much detail, all it launched was what, in less than two-and-a-half years, proved to be the most profound failure of the town’s legal-gambling era.
A catastrophic perfect storm of impossible-to-make-a-profit financing and mismanagement on an epic scale led to Revel’s demise in September, 2014. And for almost four years, it served not as the touchstone of a new generation of seaside casinos, but as the largest tombstone in the state of New Jersey, if not the world.
But it was revived under the Ocean banner in June 2018, and after a series of ownership changes, it started gaining traction about two years ago. Today, it is one of the city’s three most-successful gambling dens (along with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City)—and by the most important metric, the most successful: According to the survey for the first quarter of 2023, Ocean’s net profits were the highest of the nine gaming halls (Borgata still leads in gross gaming revenue).
So, how did a monumental failure become such a ringing success story? According to the pleasure dome’s general manager, a combination of factors is behind the dramatic turnaround, starting with a strategy that keeps the slot-machine inventory—the lifeblood of any casino—varied and up-to-date.
Another reason, offered Bill Callahan, who’s been running Ocean since the winter of 2022, is simply the property itself, a huge (more than two million square feet of public space), that measures up to any casino-hotel complex in the country in terms of gleaming luxury. But, the Revel folks essentially had the same physical plant (minus the 460 hotel rooms Ocean opened last year), restaurant lineup, spa, entertainment venue and casino space. So what made the difference?
Callahan insisted that one answer can be found in the workforce. During a recent tour of the property, he repeatedly made it a point to praise Ocean's staffers on all levels for their talent and enthusiasm.
Callahan also credits current ownership for his property’s ascent to the upper echelons of the seaside gambling industry. Ocean is a 50-50 partnership between Luxor Capital Group, a New York-based hedge fund, and Ilitch Holdings Inc. of Detroit, which also owns, among other entities, Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Red Wings hockey team and Tigers baseball team, and the Motor City Casino-Hotel.
“We said, ‘Look, these are the things we need to make this property successful and profitable,’ and they took a chance on us,” said Callahan.
“Now they see the vision. At first they, said, ‘We'll give you this much to start out with, and we'll see where we go.’ We started with the Cove [a high-end slots parlor]…and we started moving around the building and they started to see the immediate success.”
More to the point, he added, the owners saw that they “didn’t have to write checks; it's all [being paid for] by our operating profits.”
Nonetheless, Callahan and his crew aren’t content to rest on their laurels: He suggested future plans include everything from the construction of a heliport (the better to get top players to and from the casino) and continued refurbishment of hotel rooms to the addition of new food and drink outlets.
“We’ll continue to do what we're doing, reinvesting back into the property,” he promised. “That's all we're looking to do.”