Revel CEO Kevin DeSanctis testifies before the Casino Control Commission during Monday's hearing to approve their casino license.

Danny Drake

ATLANTIC CITY — The $2.4 billion Revel megaresort, the first new Atlantic City casino in nine years, was granted a license Monday by New Jersey’s gambling board.

The 3-0 vote by the Casino Control Commission was the last major regulatory hurdle before Revel opens. Revel will hold invitation-only “play days” Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights to serve as a dress rehearsal for the casino’s public debut on April 2. Revel is scheduled to open with a champagne toast at sunrise on April 2.

Revel is finally on the cusp of opening after a tumultuous six-year development period that saw the project run out of money, only to secure an additional $1.1 billion in investment last year to finish construction.

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“This day has been a long time in coming,” Revel attorney Lloyd D. Levenson told the commission. “It didn’t matter if you were a Republican, Democrat or an independent, everyone wanted this project to succeed.”

With much on the line, Revel is being counted on to pull the Atlantic City casino industry out of a five-year slump. The nation’s second-largest gambling market has been pummeled by the sluggish economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states.

Linda M. Kassekert, chair of the Casino Control Commission, drew parallels between Revel and the Las Vegas-style Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which opened in 2003.

“That facility clearly broke the mold for casino hotels in Atlantic City, reinvigorated the market and raised the bar for casino projects here,” Kassekert said of Borgata. “Like Borgata, Revel is a game changer.”

Kassekert, in unusually personal tones, told Revel’s Chief Executive Officer Kevin DeSanctis that the city’s prosperity is riding on him and Revel.

“We are placing a great deal of confidence in you, Mr. DeSanctis, and your management team at Revel,” Kassekert said. “Your ability to market this property and draw new people to come and experience what Atlantic City has to offer will play an enormous role in the future success of the gaming industry here.”

Revel created jobs for about 2,000 construction workers, boosting the trade unions at a time when they were suffering from double-digit unemployment. In addition, Revel will have about 5,000 permanent jobs — 4,000 hired by the company and the remainder working for the casino’s retail, food and beverage contractors. DeSanctis said Revel has made job offers to about 800 Atlantic City residents.

Revel’s business model is geared more toward attracting overnight guests and conventions, instead of the daytripper market that has been Atlantic City’s customer base ever since Resorts Casino Hotel opened as the city’s first casino in 1978.

“The fundamental difference in what Revel has done and what others have done is that this is a resort first and a casino next,” DeSanctis said.

Revel will also distinguish itself from its competitors by being Atlantic City’s first smokefree casino. DeSanctis said Revel is hopeful that the no-smoking policy will work, but he acknowledged there is some uncertainty.

“It’s really hard to tell,” he said of whether customers will fully embrace a smokefree casino.

The beach-inspired Revel will feature upscale restaurants, retail shops, bars, pools and a posh spa in carrying out the resort theme. Even the building’s curvy, glass-cloaked facade appears as though sculpted by waves. Its sleek 47-story hotel tower, containing nearly 1,900 rooms, rises 710 feet high, making it the tallest building in the Atlantic City skyline.

Revel development halted after chief financial backer Morgan Stanley withdrew in 2010 and the project ran out of money. DeSanctis, however, got construction going again by securing an extra $1.1 billion in funding in early 2011 from a consortium of lenders headed by Wall Street giant JPMorgan Chase. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority also helped Revel by approving $261 million in state tax reimbursements over a 20-year period.

In order to win a license, Revel had to prove that it has the financial stability required of Atlantic City casinos. James Fogarty, an attorney with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, repeatedly questioned Revel’s chief investment officer, Michael Garrity, about the company’s financial underpinnings.

“Would you call your forecasts aggressive, optimistic or realistic?” Fogarty asked Garrity.

“Realistic,” Garrity replied.

Garrity testified during Revel’s licensing hearing that the company has already set aside enough money to cover the first seven months of interest payments on its debt. Revel expects to secure a $50 million revolving credit line by mid-April to give it an even broader safety net, Garrity added.

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