revel opening

People gamble on the casino floor during opening day at Revel, Atlantic City. Monday April 2 2012 (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Ben Fogletto

ATLANTIC CITY — By the time night fell on Atlantic City’s newest attraction, the party scene at Revel was in full swing and the resort was well on its way to establishing itself as a destination.

“This is like ‘Wow,’” said Carmen Rivera, 31, of Pleasantville, one of the many evening revelers who were drawn to Ivan Kane’s Royal Jelly Burlesque Nightclub where the dancers drew a crowd of young and old, men and women inside Revel. “You can tell it’s going to have a lot of nightlife, definitely.”

Michael Pollock, publisher of Michael Pollock’s Gaming Industry Observer, called Revel a “game-changer” for the casino city, one that would entice an audience that might not have come here otherwise.

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“There is no question about it. Everything from its design to its open spaces to its integration with the neighborhood means it’s absolutely a game-changer,” Pollock said.

The day started at 7 a.m. Monday as hundreds of people lined up on the Boardwalk to get their first glimpse of Revel, the $2.4 billion megaresort that promises to bring a whole new level of gambling and entertainment to the nation’s second-largest casino market.

New kind of resort

The beach-themed Revel combines the old-fashioned charms of an oceanfront resort with Las Vegas-style glitz and glamour to create a powerful new hybrid — part casino, part entertainment fantasyland.

Revel’s edgy nightclubs, concert halls, upscale spa and a collection of gourmet restaurants operated by celebrity chefs will be just as important for generating business as the slot machines and table games.

“It’s built for today’s customer as opposed to a customer 30 years ago,” said Kevin DeSanctis, Revel’s chief executive officer.

Revel is Atlantic City’s 12th casino. It represents a radical departure from its forerunners — from its cutting-edge architecture to its upscale party scene to a business model that emphasizes that Revel is a “lifestyle resort” first and a casino second. Revel is also the city’s first smokefree casino.

Even Revel’s opening ceremony was different. There was no ribbon-cutting or traditional first roll of the dice. The day started out with a sunrise toast overlooking the ocean from Revel’s posh lobby. Instead of drinking champagne, DeSanctis and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno hoisted flute glasses filled with blueberry smoothies.

The drinks were a nod to the healthy lifestyle that Revel promotes. They were also a tribute to Atlantic City’s agricultural neighbor to the west, Hammonton, the self-proclaimed blueberry capital of the world.

Guadagno hailed Revel’s arrival as “a new dawn, not just for New Jersey, but specifically for Atlantic City.”

Moments later, as the ceremony concluded, Guadagno urged everyone: “Go put some money in the slot machines. Game on!”

Shortly after Revel’s owners toasted to their good luck, hundreds of people surged through the doors to marvel at the chic surroundings of the city’s first new casino in nine years.

First in line on the Boardwalk was Atlantic City resident Larry Rowencak, who arrived at 4 a.m.

“I want to do a little gambling,” Rowencak said, smiling.

In more serious tones, Rowencak described Revel as the type of must-see attraction that should lift the Atlantic City casino market out of its prolonged downturn.

“I think it’s going to make a big statement,” he said. “Atlantic City has been in the doldrums for a long time.”

New kind of client

Although Rowencak was at the head of the line, the first customer on the casino floor was Jerry Colonna, of Mount Laurel, Burlington County. Colonna also may have been Revel’s first big winner at the table games.

“I just won $7,000 playing roulette,” he said. “At one point, we were betting $100 a spin.”

The 28-year-old, who owns a construction company, was accompanied by four friends, all in their 20s and 30s. They embody the younger, wealthier customers prized by Atlantic City’s casinos. Colonna and his buddies, including Keith Groff, of Atlantic City, planned to hit the casino floor during the day and check out Revel’s restaurants and clubs at night.

“The casino is not the main thing to do,” said Groff, 33, who lives on Congress Avenue. “There are plenty of things to do besides gambling, which is the future of Atlantic City.”

Michele McAllister, 51, of Philadelphia, came to Revel specifically to watch the Raveonettes, an Indie rock duo scheduled to play at 9 p.m. at Social, a nightclub nestled into a corner of the casino floor.

“I’m big on live entertainment,” McAllister said. “The atmosphere is beautiful whoever plays here.”

Ed and Fay Andrews said that gambling comes second for them, that entertainment and nightlife dominated their scheduled during their two-day anniversary getaway from from Lumberton, Burlington County. The couple stayed at Tropicana, but visited Revel to see if the new resort lives up to the hype.

“It’s spectacular. I mean, it’s amazing,” said Fay Andrews, a 44-year-old analyst who also said she braved her fear of heights to check out the fifth-floor outdoor deck overlooking the Boardwalk and Atlantic Ocean.

She and her husband called Revel’s smokefree policy huge for them, too.

“You still smell it (at other casinos), you really do,” she said, referring to other properties subject to the partial smoking ban enacted two years ago by the local government.

They also said they think Revel will succeed in its mission to attract young professionals with disposable income who currently do not visit Atlantic City.

Grand opening

The public will see more and more attractions come online as Revel builds up to a formal grand opening ceremony over the Memorial Day weekend headlined by pop superstar Beyonce, who will perform three shows in the casino’s 5,000-seat concert hall.

Monday’s opening was a more subdued affair, considered the start of an eight-week preview period culminating in the grand opening gala.

Those who ventured inside for their first peek seemed impressed with the stylish decor and the panoramic ocean views that unfold from nearly every part of the super-sized property.

“It’s beautiful. It’s excellent,” Bill Wagner, of Wallkill, N.Y., said as he played a penny slot machine. “I was expecting just another casino, but it’s a step up. It’s amazing.”

Wagner’s friend, Kazel Allen, also of Wallkill, described Revel’s designs as “futuristic.”

“It definitely exceeded my expectations,” she said.

Even at night, as the music blared at the nightclubs and other bars and restaurants around Revel, patrons looking for peace and quiet found their niche. Those customers included Robert Grover, 43, and his daughter Alyssa, 12, of Galloway Township, who were relaxing along the many abundant benches lining another part of Revel.

“We’ve just been walking around,” Grover said, adding they were waiting for his wife to finish her rounds on the casino floor. “We’re waiting to go home.”

Revel is being counted on to revitalize the Atlantic City market, now mired in a five-year slump caused by the sluggish economy and gambling competition in surrounding states. Over the weekend, Pennsylvania opened its 11th casino, the Valley Forge Casino Resort in the Philadelphia suburb of King of Prussia.

Lillian Acevedo, one of the first Revel customers waiting outside for the doors to open in the morning, maintained that the megaresort is unmatched by any casino in Pennsylvania.

“No, not even close. This is why I usually come to Atlantic City. I’m a big gambler,” said Acevedo, of Thorndale, Pa.

Revel will tempt customers with an array of first-time attractions for the Atlantic City market, including glossy architecture that embraces the beaches and ocean. Casinos previously built on the Boardwalk turned their backs on the ocean, relying on the landside Pacific Avenue entryway as their front door. Revel, on the other hand, uses the ocean as a focal point. Even the casino’s curvy, glass-cloaked facade appears as though sculpted by waves.

“I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like the ocean,” DeSanctis said. “All we did was to position ourselves to take advantage of that location.”

Boosting job market

While much has been made of Revel’s impact on the tourism market, the casino has also helped to boost a local labor market still struggling in the weak economy.

DeSanctis estimated Revel’s economic impact at 10,000 jobs throughout the region, including 5,000 people directly employed at the casino hotel. Revel’s workers include 800 city residents, fulfilling a pledge by the company to provide local employment.

“They definitely stood by what they said they would do. They are committed,” said Deanna Espichan, a housekeeping supervisor at Revel and an Atlantic City resident.

“I think they bend over backward to make you feel comfortable and part of the family,” added Cheryl Stumacher, a Revel front desk host who also lives in Atlantic City. “We’re all treated the same.”

Espichan, Stumacher and concierge David Conn, of Somers Point, were among the many employees still learning their new jobs and sharing in the excitement of a busy first day.

“We’ve known for a long time that this is a fantastic place. To also hear that from the customers for the first time is a very gratifying thing,” Conn said.

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