Indeed, the last casino to open in Atlantic City prior to the $2.4 billion Revel was the Borgata, located a few miles from the boardwalk in the marina district, in 2003. It, too, caters to guests looking for niceties, but with a more casual tone. That property just completed a $50 million renovation of all of its rooms, a much needed improvement that makes it Revel's only true competitor in a market dotted with properties serving midlevel gamblers. (The former Trump Marina also underwent a major overhaul when it was sold and rebranded as the Golden Nugget.)
The differences at Revel are immediately noticeable. It's the first completely non-smoking casino/hotel in the city (the one smoking area is on the SkyGarden, accessible only to guests at the hotel's HQ Nightclub); it offers free Wi-Fi throughout the building and use of its high-tech gym is complimentary to guests (day passes to the partially co-ed Bask spa are $55-$75); and it is exceedingly spacious, with comfortable art deco couches sprinkled throughout the multi-level, 6.3 million-square-foot space, designed with striking colors.
Regular guest rooms, which range from $189 midweek to $325 and up on weekends, are similar in color scheme to Borgata's Water Club (light carpeting, dark furniture, white-sheeted beds with tasteful maroon and gray accents). Adding to the chic factor, they're fitted with contemporary flourishes such as a touch-screen Android tablet that doubles as an Internet source, but also allows you to order 24-hour room service ($12 for garlic chili wings, $18 for a burger, $39 for steak frites) and investigate the mini bar prices ($3 for a Coca-Cola, $8 for a small Jack Daniels).
The large bathroom, with marble double sinks and a stand-up shower big enough for a roomful of people (wait, is this Vegas?), is a comfortable respite --- which seems to be the overall theme at Revel.
But, as with any new business, growing pains are inevitable, and DeSantis realizes that.
Until recently, the 14 dining options focused on "dining experience" restaurants from respected names such as Michel Richard (Central), Marc Forgione (American Cut) and Robert Wiedmaier (Mussel Bar), with a handful of casual options including an outpost of Philadelphia's Village Whiskey (definitely a loud, excitable atmosphere) and Distrito Cantina (a festively decorated taco truck).
Lush? Yes. Practical? Not really.
But over Fourth of July weekend, Revel introduced chef Luke Palladino's Luke's Kitchen and Marketplace, which will stay open until the wee hours --- prime time for many gamblers --- and offer paninis, subs, salads, pizza, gelato and other just-want-a-bite options.
DeSantis said they have now opened all of the restaurants planned, but there is talk about a couple of "small concept" dining options.
Another difference at Revel: No buffet. It simply doesn't fit the concept.
Other changes that have been implemented at the casino/resort apply to things such as player loyalty clubs and an increase in comp offerings to regular players --- Revel is about 50 percent comped rooms, while most casinos in Atlantic City, said DeSantis, are close to 80 percent.
On Saturday nights, the competing sounds floating from Ivan Kane's Royal Jelly Burlesque Nightclub, the Social bar/seating area and a disc jockey situated on the catwalk that runs through the casino can be migraine-inducing for a gambler.
DeSantis has heard the grumbles.
"If you think about it, our name implies revelry," he said. "But, that said, the key is to make sure that each of those areas has energy, but also make sure it doesn't turn from energy to an unpleasant experience. That's a tuning we constantly do."
While Revel's gaming floor --- 130,000 square feet with almost 2,500 slots machines, 97 table games and a second-level poker room with 37 tables --- is beautifully appointed with autumnal lighted fans, technologically superior "server-based" slot machines and even a video screen cone showing nature scenes suspended over one area, gaming revenue hasn't hit any high notes yet.
Atlantic City, in general, has struggled with new competition from the nearby Philadelphia market.
Revenue is down 7 percent this year so far from 2011, though June's numbers remained stable compared with the same month last year, according to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Figures for June show that Revel generated $14.9 million in gambling revenue, ranking it eighth among the city's dozen gaming establishments.
"We need to improve that," DeSantis said. "It's not realistic for us to be in eighth place, and we will continue to build that. We don't need to hit the gaming levels some folks thought, but we need to be about double where we are. Assuming the rest of July goes as the first half did, we'll be about two-thirds of the way there."
Revel Beach, a 300-yard to 400-yard area of public beach, will open this week and close after Labor Day until next season. Next year's plans for the beach area include surfing classes and paddle boarding.
Also, a new stretch of 16 retail outlets --- dubbed the Row and including Denim Habit, Hugo Boss and three sundries options --- recently opened, as did a small outpost of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (a full-service version arrives Oct. 1).
Despite some modifications, DeSantis is confident about the future of Revel and committed to providing a comparatively lavish experience for gamblers and resort fans alike.
"We are getting a very different guest to come and visit us," he said. "I actually think, in many ways, this [approach] worked better than we thought."
IF YOU GO
Revel is located at 500 Boardwalk, Atlantic City. 1-855-348-0500, www.revelresorts.com. Spirit Airlines offers a daily nonstop flight from Atlanta to Atlantic City. Check www.spiritair.com for fares. Atlantic City can also be accessed from Philadelphia, located about 62 miles west.