When Kevin DeSanctis began his career in Atlantic City many years ago, the CEO of the gambling mecca's new, $2.4 billion Revel resort and casino wasn't working for casinos -- he was monitoring them as a New Jersey state trooper.
His transformation into the top official at the resort town's most expensive creation ever is about as radical a makeover as the scuffling city needs from Revel to usher in a turnaround.
Its arrival comes at a time when Pennsylvania's "convenience" casinos just took over as the second-most revenue-drawing, by state, in the country. Speculation is that Atlantic City could do itself a favor in the years ahead by bulldozing a couple of its weakest links. (It now has 11 casinos, including Revel.)
"Casinos in Pennsylvania and New York are part of a convenience market. They've become not much different than [gamblers'] local bars," DeSanctis said of the proliferation of competition for gambling dollars. "We believe we offer a great alternative."
The alternative Revel offers is in its "leisure" approach to entertainment. Gone -- forever, perhaps? -- are the days where Atlantic City's resorts catered mostly to gamblers. DeSanctis said a fundamental shift at Revel will be a new emphasis on entertainment outside of the sea of slots and blackjack tables.
In a stark contrast to its chief competitor for patrons, Borgata and its sister resort, the Water Club, Revel embraces Atlantic City's greatest natural resource.
"You can't build on the beach and turn your back to the ocean," DeSanctis said. During a tour of the property with Revel's principal architect, Michael Prifti, who also oversaw construction of the Borgata nine years ago, the Atlantic Ocean is visible from almost everywhere in the resort.
The Revel Beach is still under construction, but will be ready by the official opening, Memorial Day weekend. The current earth moving along the northernmost stretch of the boardwalk includes creating a beach with small waves for waders and larger breakers for surfers, Prifti said.
The ocean is as dominant upon a trip around the resort as the main gambling floor.
"I don't think anyone appreciates having to walk through a casino to get to your hotel room," Prifti said. "What we're trying to do is make people feel, 'we're going to have a good time.'"
It's a feeling Atlantic City needs a lot more of in the coming months and years if it's going to remake itself in the era of convenience gambling.
What we saw
The emphasis on entertainment over gambling spending by its guests means Revel put a lot of effort into its cuisine and leisure fares. Here's highlights of what to see and do:
1. Garces, Garces, Garces: Philly's biggest celebrity chef, Jose Garces, has four different eateries at Revel, with options for those looking to woo a date with high-priced menus to someone on the move itching for a quick taco.
2. NYC's culinary influence: Acclaimed chefs Alain Allegretti and Marc Forgione are also opening high-end Mediterranean and steakhouse restaurants. As you imagined, all the eateries have panoramic views of the ocean.
3. The Social: Like the Borgata, Revel has a massive concert venue -- 5,500 seats -- but also an intriguing secondary space like The Social seats 700 for live entertainment, which can convert to provide different experiences depending on the act.
4. Beach Club and nightclub: HQ Nightclub and HQ Beach Club combine for more than 80,000 square feet of party space. Depending on your preference, get sweaty on the inside dance floor until the early hours or enjoy the ocean breeze on the private beachfront.
5. Sand: Unlike most of Atlantic City's casinos, there is an emphasis on the ocean. Revel also remade thousands of feet of the boardwalk that links the resort to the beach -- very little possibility of splinters.