Associated Press - June 19, 2014 ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) – Atlantic City’s Revel Casino Hotel warned its staff Thursday that it will shut down this summer if a buyer can’t be found for the struggling casino.
In warning letters given to employees and obtained by The Associated Press, Revel said it is seeking a buyer for the $2.4 billion casino but can’t guarantee one will be found. If not, employees could be terminated as soon as Aug. 18, Revel said in the letter.
“If Revel is unable to complete such a sale promptly, Revel expects to close its entire facility,” the letters read. The company also said it plans to stay open while it searches for a buyer.
Although the letters did not mention it, the casino appears poised to file for bankruptcy for the second time in little over a year.
It could not be determined how much Revel might sell for in a bankruptcy auction, but it is sure to be a steep discount. Wall Street analysts and some casino executives said last month that $300 million was too high a price for the casino. A union that has been at odds with Revel since before it opened pegged its value in April at $25 million to $73 million, based on public filings.
For much of the past year, Revel has sought a buyer for the property, which has remained eighth out of Atlantic City’s 11 casinos in terms of the amount of money won from gamblers. But it also kept the option of a second bankruptcy filing as potential buyers expressed interest but failed to pursue a deal.
The Seminole tribe of Florida, through its Hard Rock franchise, has indicated an interest “if the price is right.”
The casino is owned by investors who gained control of it during bankruptcy last year, swapping debt for equity in the property. The transaction wiped out 82 percent of Revel’s $1.5 billion in debt.
But even with that extra breathing room, Revel continued to struggle. It acknowledged mistakes in how the property was marketed and operated, launching a massive campaign to try to win back patrons. But that backfired when a “You Can’t Lose” promotion offering to refund slot losses angered many customers who thought their losses would be refunded in cash. Instead, they were gradually credited to a Revel account over several months, with restrictions on when the credits could be used.
All this occurred against a backdrop of increasing competition from casinos in neighboring states; four new casinos will soon open in New York. Atlantic City’s casino revenue fell from a high of $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.86 billion last year.
Revel has never been profitable since it opened in April 2012.
It posted a gross operating loss of $21.7 million in the first quarter this year. For all of 2013, it lost $130 million, up from the $110 million it lost during the nine months it was open in 2012.
Revel was seen as a potential game-changer when it opened, the first new casino in Atlantic City since 2003.
But its timing was exceedingly bad. The project broke ground just before the Great Recession, and it ran out of money halfway through construction. It was only after the state offered tax credits against future earnings that Revel was able to obtain the last $1 billion or so needed to finish building.
It never really connected with the Atlantic City casino market, presenting itself as a high-end luxury destination and eschewing trademarks of New Jersey casino culture like a buffet or bus trips for gamblers. It also was the only casino in New Jersey to ban smoking throughout, further alienating some gamblers. It dropped the smoking ban last year after emerging from bankruptcy.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.