ATLANTIC CITY — Kevin DeSanctis, Revel’s chief executive officer, said there was never one moment when he had any doubt that his $2.4 billion megaresort would be built.
DeSanctis then let out a wry smile and quickly added, “There were probably about 50 moments. There were many.”
Monday’s opening of the Revel resort culminated an often turbulent five-year development cycle that included a 2008 plane crash that killed three key company executives, an economic recession and the withdrawal of the project’s chief financial backer.
Revel ran out of money when Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley walked away in 2010, leaving DeSanctis with a half-completed building on his hands. Yet he persisted, securing an additional $1.1 billion in financing in February 2011 to finish the project.
Revel’s improbable comeback was a stunning personal achievement for the 59-year-old DeSanctis, a former State Police trooper turned casino mogul. DeSanctis, though, refused to take personal credit for rescuing Revel.
“I’m sure at one point, when they’re rolling me down the Boardwalk, I’ll say, ‘I used to run that place,’” he joked of his future retirement.
Despite DeSanctis’ low-key persona, one close associate described him as an intensely driven man whose leadership pushed Revel over the finish line — even when Wall Street was still reluctant to finance risky casino projects.
“I think Kevin DeSanctis is an amazing man,” said Michael Prifti, a principal with Philadelphia-based BLT, Revel’s lead architect. “He is tremendously positive. He is very insightful. He has an internal intensity wrapped in an outwardly calm demeanor.”
DeSanctis’ ideas reflect “a passion to do things right; to carry out an overall vision,” Prifti said.
Prifti began working with DeSanctis in March 2007, when Revel was still just a concept. DeSanctis and his upstart Revel Entertainment Group were hired in 2006 by Morgan Stanley to develop and operate the project. Morgan Stanley owned the casino-zoned land and began financing construction.
Michael Garrity, who was with Morgan Stanley at that time and now serves as Revel’s chief investment officer, recalled how he and DeSanctis gazed over the development site in 2006, then little more than a dirt lot next to the ocean.
“He said, ‘The last thing Atlantic City needs right now is a new casino,’” Garrity testified during Revel’s licensing hearing last week before the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
DeSanctis explained in an interview Monday that what he meant in 2006 is that Atlantic City’s age-old, gambling-centric casino industry needed an overhaul. His vision turned into Revel, a resort-style attraction that promotes entertainment first and gambling second.
“We’ve built something that I think is very different. … I don’t think of it as a game-changer. I think we’re playing a different game,” DeSanctis observed of Atlantic City’s transformation into a broader tourist destination.
DeSanctis’ vision for Revel included a beach-inspired design that embraces the ocean. Previously, the Boardwalk casinos simply did not take full advantage of the ocean, preferring instead to use the landside Pacific Avenue strip as their main entrance.
“It’s a terrific location,” DeSanctis said of Revel’s 20-acre site at the northern end of the Boardwalk. “Anywhere in the world, if you have a beachfront location, you have a wonderful place to start.”
DeSanctis learned from some of the top names in the casino and construction industries. He counts casino titans Steve Wynn, Sol Kerzner and Donald Trump among his influences. He worked for all three at various times during his lengthy casino career. DeSanctis also noted that his ideas about style and design were shaped by Chris Hemmeter, the late real estate developer who pioneered the concept of a resort destination in Hawaii.
DeSanctis started in the casino industry in 1977, recruited at the time by the now-deceased Dennis Gomes, a former state gaming investigator who eventually became a top industry executive. In the late 1970s, DeSanctis was a New Jersey state trooper and helped Gomes conduct a background investigation of Resorts Casino Hotel, Atlantic City’s first casino.
“Dennis was a friend. He was a bit of a mentor when I was younger,” DeSanctis said.
DeSanctis spoke of that friendship during his remarks last month at Gomes’ memorial service. Gomes, who became CEO and co-owner of Resorts in 2010, died Feb. 24 of complications from kidney dialysis.
Although Gomes and other casino heavyweights helped guide him, DeSanctis made his own mark in the industry by climbing the executive ranks. He acknowledged that Revel is the highlight of his career, but poked fun at himself in the process.
“It is, but it took 30 years,” he said. “It didn’t happen overnight.”
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