Sweeney Edit Bd Meeting

New Jersey state Senate President Stephen Sweeney

Edward Lea

Revel is a beautiful property that could rival some of Atlantic City’s most successful casino resorts — if only it was under new management, according to state Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem.

The Senate leader, who was in the resort Wednesday to kick off his New Jersey Small Business Listening Tour, said he believed the casino — which has financially struggled since it opened in April — won’t be able to rebound from its losses without new owners.

“When the creditors take it back, it’ll be sold,” Sweeney said.

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Revel’s spokeswoman Maureen Siman could not be reached for comment.

People have a “bad first impression” of Revel, Sweeney said, citing overly pricey dining options as one example.

“The impression has been made,” he said. “What will make it successful is what it’s not now.”

While Revel announced plans to use part of the $150 million in additional financing it recently received to expand its eatery options, Sweeney said he believed current owners have tainted the casino’s reputation.

“No one wants that place to succeed more than me,” he said. “There’s no question that it can succeed.”

Sweeney, a possible gubernatorial candidate, made his comments during a stop at Kelsey & Kim’s Southern Cafe on Melrose Avenue, which he was visiting as part of his tour of small businesses across the state to ask owners what the Legislature could do to help them.

“What can we do better?” Sweeney asked Kim Jackson, co-owner of Kelsey & Kim’s, which recently opened a third location on Kentucky Avenue near the Boardwalk. The soul food specialists also operate a take-out restaurant in Pleasantville.

“Running a small take-out is totally different from running a dine in,” said Jackson, who cited mentorship and more education on government procedures — such as for liquor licenses and tax requirements — as top on her wish list. “There are tremendous questions I have.”

Sweeney said that some counties proactively reach out to new businesses and provide them with information. He said he would look into what Atlantic County provides.

“You need a clearinghouse, so you don’t have to find things,” he said.

Jackson replied, “I think that would be great.”

Sweeney, who was in Wall Township visiting an engineering firm earlier in the day, said he was specifically talking to small business owners to hear their concerns. The Senate president, who has been criticized by some business leaders for his sponsorship of a bill to increase the minimum wage and tie future increases to inflation, said he was awaiting action from Gov. Chris Christie on that front.

The governor has until Monday to sign the legislation, and Sweeney said he believed Christie would, but likely veto the part that allows for future increases. Sweeney and other Democrats have vowed to return with a proposed constitutional amendment that would do the same thing but wouldn’t need gubernatorial approval to take effect.

Christie also has a bill awaiting his signature that would legalize Internet gambling, which Sweeney said Atlantic City needs in order to be competitive. Christie has not said whether he will sign it.

“The thing that’s troubling me the most is he’s taking his time with it,” Sweeney said. “If he really does have a commitment to Atlantic City, he will sign it.”

Sweeney has said Atlantic City is a priority for the state, pledging — along with Christie — to keep casino gambling exclusive to the resort for several more years, despite calls from some North Jersey Democratic lawmakers to allow the Meadowlands and racetracks to carry slot machines.

At the same time, Sweeney has been openly critical of Revel for months, writing to the Division of Gaming Enforcement last year asking regulators to investigate the casino’s finances.

Division Director David Rebuck responded in a Dec. 11 letter to Sweeney, telling him regulators had “substantially heightened (their) financial monitoring of Revel’s operating results and financial condition.”

Hurricane Sandy also has exacerbated finances for all casinos, Rebuck said.

“While Revel is assessing the amount of loss from the storm and its coverage by insurance policies, it is unclear what impact the storm will have on the industry in general and Revel, in particular, in the near term,” he said.

In its latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Revel reported an income loss — before interest, income taxes, depreciation and amortization — of $10 million in November and $13 million in October.

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