There are two things that Ocean Resort Casino owner Bruce Deifik – the Colorado-based real estate developer who bought Atlantic City’s famed Revel property earlier this year for $200 million – says he will do when he meets you on June 28, the opening date of his new hotel and gaming hot spot.
First, he’ll show you a photo of Atlantic City circa 1938. “The shot is of a town that is 100 percent activated, of people engaged and having fun in beautiful suits and dresses,” he starts. “There is a General Motors sign in the background and another advertising a Burns & Allen date, to signify industry. Along with people smiling amid the bustle, you see 1938 – a time when the population was nothing like it is today. There is no reason with a boardwalk, a beach, this ocean and the things that we alone – let alone the other casinos and hotels here – are bringing for families, adults, children and millennials, that all that can’t happen again.” Then Deifik will challenge you to a Go-Kart race on the track he’s erecting next to the double helipad. “I’ll take on any comer.”
It is such chutzpah, and such giving personality and promised hospitality that Deifik believes can change the fortunes of what 500 Boardwalk once was: Revel Atlantic City; a $2.4 billion-priced Ninth Wonder of the World that didn’t allow you to smoke anywhere, wouldn’t allow you to book any hotel stay below 2 days, and couldn’t get you, with ease, to the gambling casino space, from anywhere else in the building. With that, Revel opened in 2012 and closed in 2014, before being purchased for a song ($82 mil in bankruptcy court circa 2015) by Florida developer Glenn Straub, who sold it to Deifik’s AC OCEAN WALK group in January 2018 for $200 million.
”We have added our share of new amenities,” said Deifik of children’s play/eat spaces such as Cereal Town, and a welcoming grand staircase that replaces what he called “the prison wall” between the casino entry and the Boardwalk (“that alone defined what that past operation was all about”). “But, if you can’t find your way from your room to the casino, we have ‘ambassadors’ from Stockton University and the like who will guide you, hand you maps, and not let you go it alone until they’re comfortable you know what you’re doing,” said the new owner. “If you want to gamble and smoke, you can smoke. If you need a restaurant reservation, we own all of the restaurants here with the other partners such as Mark Walhberg and Jose Garces (currently in league with Chicago’s Ballard Bros. restaurant team).”We can get that reservation. We have done away with all signs of arrogance.”
There is no ‘no’ at Ocean Resort Casino. That may sound like razzmatazz salesmanship, but Deifik is cool with that because he didn’t get what was great about being aloof when it came to Revel. “Who won’t take a reservation for one night,” Deifik laughed at the old Revel limitation, now lifted at Ocean Resort. “You can book a one-night stay, and I will be the first to give you a big hug when you do it.”
It is such a force of personality and promise that brought two entertainment executives from outside the world of casinos – Joey Morrisey, Managing Director, HQ2, and Entertainment Executive, Lou Branchinelli – to Ocean Resorts. While the latter has worked with top-tier event promoters such as Live Nation and William Morris’ Endeavor to curate large scale concerts, festivals and DJ/electronic music dance events the likes of which pushed DJ Avicii to prominence, the former has been a club owner and promoter for the likes of Peter Gatian (Roxy, Sound Factory), and is a formidable force in bringing top celebrities to host parties and red carpet events. “I didn’t believe in Atlantic City, didn’t get what the big deal was,” said Branchinelli. “But after Bruce made me see the light and the possibilities – that this could truly be the next Vegas, but with the ocean and the beach nearby – I knew I had to bring Joey into this. He helped change the nightlife in the Hamptons and New York City – made those cities’ nightlife at one point. If anybody could transform and reinvent AC, it is Joey.”
Like Branchinelli and Deifik, Morrisey, didn’t get or didn’t see that Atlantic City was ready when Revel first hit terra firma. “I saw flaws; didn’t think they were looking for a seven-day-a-week existence, didn’t think they understood their own market, let alone the club market. Then Lou called about Bruce’s ideas for the future … And I can see it now,” stated Morrisey.
Neither of these gentlemen believe that Atlantic City is the Hamptons or NYC, and that’s a great thing as nightlife in both hot spots has dwindled to focus on smaller crowds, intimate joints and higher, exclusive price points. In other words, it’s boring. “If I bring 10,000 people to a neighborhood in the Hamptons or Manhattan, they’d have a problem with me,” said Morrissey. “If I bring 10,000 people to a club in Atlantic City, they’ll throw me a parade.” They all laugh about the fact that Ocean Resorts casino has it all – parking, places to go to dinner and dance, hang out on the beach and stay at a nice hotel.
That they are showing it all off starting on June 28 – the same night that Hard Rock Casino down the street is doing such isn’t a matter of competition (Deifik stated they picked their date over 6 months ago), but rather collective communion. “We stand a real chance of making this into an event of mammoth proportions – the transference of Atlantic City – with two mega-casinos opening at once, rather than one at a time,” said Deifik. “All eyes will be on AC. This city is ready for its true renaissance.”
Nothing but Numbers
One thing that Bruce Deifik knows about the Revel spot that became his now Ocean Resort Casino and hotel (“all 1,399 rooms,” he says, proudly) is absolutely everything. “If you were to hide a packet of Equal in this place, within its 6.4 million square feet, Bruce would find it,” said Entertainment Executive Lou Branchinelli. “He’s on top of every detail.”
So, then, a conversation with Deifik doesn’t just come down to the money he’s spent – a $200 million property purchase, a $175 million-plus renovation on the 6.4-million-square-foot property at 500 Boardwalk which originally cost Revel $2.4 billion to build and survived just two years until 2014 – but exactly what that cash was spent on, and how many yards and inches that expense will cover. Such as putting in a 7,000-plus person parking garage that didn’t exist in the past, or the 138,000 feet of Ulster Irish carpet or the gaming machines and slots, 70 percent of which are new – all in a show of form, function and fashion-ability. There are six swimming pools (including a saltwater pool and an ocean-facing sun deck), a renovated 5,500 seat Ovation Hall, 70,000 square feet of retail space, and a 32,000-square-foot spa, Exhale. There are 16 eateries, including three from Jose Garces and two from actor-producer Mark Wahlberg, who will bring his fast-casual burger chain Walhburgers and a bar called Entourage, based on the HBO series of the same name.
When Deifik had a sixth sense or gut feeling that sports betting would be a thing in 2018 (“Nobody knew what the Supreme Court of the United States was going to do, let alone how soon they were going to do it,” he said of the allowance of sport betting in NJ), he followed that instinct by completely changing the navigation of the 138,000-square-feet sized casino, by taking out one wall of the Social nightclub and moving the sports book into the center of the room. “I got laughed at for such a guess at first – all 7,500 square feet. No one is laughing now when we start the betting on June 28.”
What’s Going On
Along with Mark Wahlberg and, what Joey Morrisey, calls “an entourage of his friends, still a surprise,” the opening weekend of Ocean Resort Casino will feature red carpet walkthroughs and hang-outs with “America’s Got Talent” judge Heidi Klum and her favorite non-requited love interest, Sal “the Voice” Valentinetti, Academy Award-winning actor and singer Jamie Foxx, and Russell Peters, the comedian who will also DJ June 28’s opening party.
Speaking of DJs, on the opening weekend – June 29 through July 1 at the facility’s HQ2 Beachclub – Lou Branchinelli has booked premier spinning sets from one-time Fishtown producer Diplo, Kaskade, producer-turned-DJ Jermaine Dupri, and the Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano team. “Steve Angello form Swedish House Mafia and Shaquille O’Neal – yes, he’s DJ-ing now – will be coming in shortly after the initial weekend,” said Branchinelli.