gaming conference
Kevin DeSanctis, CEO, Revel Entertainment Group, delivers the final speech of the afternoon at the East Coast Gaming Congress, announcing May 15, 2012, as the opening date for the Revel casino hotel.

ATLANTIC CITY — One of Atlantic City’s most closely guarded secrets ended Tuesday when the chief executive officer of the Revel casino project disclosed that the $2.4 billion megaresort will open May 15, 2012.

Surprising the audience, Kevin DeSanctis announced the grand opening date during closing remarks at the East Coast Gaming Congress, an annual conference that draws hundreds of industry officials to Atlantic City.

“We expect to employ over 5,000 workers when we open in May, less than a year from now,” said DeSanctis, the last speaker at the daylong gathering.

DeSanctis later pinned down the date to May 15 while talking to reporters. Although much work still needs to be done, DeSanctis expressed confidence that construction on the massive casino hotel will be completed in 12 months.

“Right now, May 15 is the date,” DeSanctis said in an interview with The Press of Atlantic City. “If we could do it sooner, I would do it sooner.”

May will be a “soft” opening date, with the Fourth of July shaping up as a more elaborate grand opening ceremony, DeSanctis explained.

Revel’s grand opening date was the subject of intense speculation. Until recently, the entire project had been in doubt because of Revel’s funding shortages.

However, Revel Entertainment Group resumed construction on the stalled project in March after securing $1.15 billion in new financing — money that ensures the casino’s completion.

Revel will be the city’s 12th casino and is expected to be the last huge gaming resort built in the troubled Atlantic City market for years to come. DeSanctis, though, said the project shows that Atlantic City is far from being dead.

“Atlantic City has the most potential, in my view, of any market in the Northeast,” he told the gaming conference.

Revel will feature a collection of theaters, restaurants, retail shops, nightclubs, a spa, pools and its own beach to complement 150,000 square feet of casino space. DeSanctis said upscale nongaming amenities are exactly what Atlantic City needs to attract more customers in the increasingly competitive Northeast casino market.

“I’m a believer that if you build a product that the customer wants today, you will be successful,” he said.

Word of Revel’s grand opening date came the same day that Houston-based Landry’s Inc. became the new owner of the former Trump Marina Hotel Casino. Landry’s, owner of the Golden Nugget casino hotels in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nev., bought Trump Marina for $38 million and is rebranding it as Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget.

On Monday, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission granted final regulatory approval for Trump Marina’s sale to Landry’s, a gaming, restaurant and entertainment conglomerate headed by Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta.

Other speakers at the East Coast Gaming Congress said the Revel project and the Landry’s deal signal that Atlantic City may finally be on the verge of a comeback after slogging through a four-year casino slump.

“Tilman Fertitta sees this as a new day for Atlantic City and he wants to be part of it,” said Linda M. Kassekert, chair of the Casino Control Commission.“Atlantic City is coming back, and I feel it.

Kassekert predicted that casino-friendly regulatory reforms signed into law Feb. 1 by Gov. Chris Christie, combined with an array of new attractions springing up throughout town, will lead to “a new day for Atlantic City.”

“I hope you will agree that the future is very bright,” she said.

Mayor Lorenzo Langford used his welcoming remarks at the conference to tout Atlantic City’s prospects. He said the gaming industry and government officials have been cooperating on an unprecedented level since his “clarion call” about a year ago to revive the city.

Atlantic City is fighting for business in the increasingly crowded Mid-Atlantic gaming market. The weak economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states have pushed down the city’s gaming revenue 30 percent since it peaked at $5.2 billion in 2006.

Bob Griffin, CEO of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., estimated that the Atlantic City market will level off at $3 billion in revenue this year. In 2010, it was $3.6 billion. Griffin believes a recovery will begin next year.

“Clearly, 2012 should be set up for a good year,” he said, and “2011 is going to be another tough year.”

Don Marrandino, president of the Bally’s, Harrah’s Resort and Showboat casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp., said Atlantic City must follow the Las Vegas model by offering customers bigger and better attractions.

“The big mantra in Atlantic City has got to be big events,” Marrandino said.

Marrandino pointed to April’s three-day rodeo at Boardwalk Hall and June’s three-day music festival headlined by the Dave Matthews Band as the types of shows that will drive more business to the casinos and the rest of the city.

Wall Street analysts, though, seemed less optimistic about Atlantic City’s future. They told the gaming conference that the city will continue to struggle, even with the arrival of Revel.

“For the most part, it’s going to be cannibalizing the existing operators,” Michael Paladino, senior director of gaming, lodging and leisure for Fitch Ratings, said of Revel’s impact on the rest of the casinos.

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