Revel, the New Joint

Revel Atlantic City opened with much fanfare on Memorial Day Weekend, 2012. There was a concert with Beyoncé; Michelle Obama and Chris Christie attended (not together, silly).

But the joint had already been open for weeks, in what folks in the biz call a “soft opening.” A soft opening is when they’re open, but if any problems arise, they can claim immunity from blame because they’re not “really open.” It was during this period that I first visited Revel, and was underwhelmed. I made a snarky comment on the internet and left it at that.

Not fair, right? I mean, the place wasn’t really open yet. Each time I returned to Atlantic City, I would look out over the skyline from my room at the Borgata and see Revel, the tallest building in town, the one with the absurd colored ball on top, and think, you know, it really was nicer than most of the crappy boardwalk joints, wasn’t it? Heck, it’s a ten-minute drive across town from the Borgata; let’s give it another shot.

The casino is trying very hard to be Vegas. New, trendy Vegas. Atlantic City is not like Vegas, but if you picked up the wrong hooker and woke up at Revel missing your wallet with no memory of last night, you might think that’s where you were. Lots of indirect lighting, bright slot machines, saturated colors, everything just so. Also, it’s very, very red.

The floor is thrown together haphazardly. I can’t find any rhyme or reason to where things are: video poker, slots, high-limit, low-limit, table games, all strewn about seemingly at random by someone who thinks Vegas casinos are cool but doesn’t really understand why. There are the requisite themed restaurants, but they somehow all look alike. There is a bar in the casino called Flirt—just in case you need instructions, they’re right there in the trendy Vegas name. There’s no buffet—buffets are so provincial.

A great trend that came to Vegas a few years ago is the “ultra-lounge,” and Revel follows along, its ultra-lounge discreetly tucked away in a corner of the casino. An ultra-lounge is a room where they put all the pretentious douchebags, so the rest of us don’t have to deal with them.

Revel’s video poker payouts for Jacks or Better are 8/5 (97.3%); Borgata’s are 9/6 (99.54%)—“full pay,” as good as it gets. Revel’s payouts for Deuces Wild are 20/12/10/4 (97.58%), which beats Borgata’s 16/13/4 (96.77%) slightly. Revel’s video roulette machines are double-zero games (which you should never play), while Borgata’s are single-zero. Not much going for Revel here.

But what about poker? I set out to find the poker room. The directory sign sent me up the massive escalators in the glass-enclosed lobby, but no poker room was evident. Finally I gave up and found an employee standing around trying to look helpful. Following his directions led me up the giant escalator, then past a sign clearly indicating that the general public was not to pass the sign.

I walked down a surreal, empty corridor, like an eerie space station set from Doctor Who. Then another empty corridor, then another, not passing a single human being, the feeling that I’d taken a very wrong turn growing with each step.

Finally, I came upon the Revel poker room—a dark, quiet room near the back, on a level above the casino—where they were running two tables of 1-2 No Limit, and that’s it. Two tables.

Sad poker room.

This is the Borgata poker room, for comparison:

Once there, I explored this bizarrely empty upper level, and discovered that you can get to this level from the casino, using a nondescript staircase next to Flirt. You’d never know by looking at it, and clearly the guy who gave me directions didn’t know.

Nice poker rooms are the trend in Vegas; I guess secret, back-room poker is supposed to one-up the trend. This one-upping is a recurring theme at Revel. Vegas casinos are restricting smoking to designated areas; at Revel, you can’t smoke anywhere in the building. Vegas casinos are getting bigger; at Revel, to get to the hotel lobby, you go up three giant escalators to the eleventh floor and then walk down a long corridor where you can barely see to the other end. (Or just park on the eleventh floor of the garage and go straight there (pro tip).)

And then there’s the Vegas trend of having dancers in the casino. This is cool. It adds a little mystery and excitement to the experience. Revel wanted to one-up this trend, too, but unfortunately it was designed by someone who knows as much about cool as Mitt Romney knows about the middle class.

Here are some Las Vegas casino dancers: Planet Hollywood, New York New York, and Luxor.

How do you one-up casino dancers? How about a whole strip club, right in the casino? Well, yes, that would do it. That would be edgy. That would be cool. But it would also be too much for some customers, and offensive to others. That’s the price of cool. Revel didn’t want to pay the price, so they made a fake strip club instead.

The “Royal Jelly Burlesque Nightclub” is open to the casino, so everyone walking by can see how cool it isn’t. So, it would have to be fake: in New Jersey, you can have alcohol, or you can have strippers, but you can’t have both in the same joint. (Yes, The Sopranos got this tragically wrong.) So, there are dancers pretending to be strippers, which turns out to be pretty lame. This isn’t edgy; this isn’t cool. This is trying too hard.

Where Revel is not trying too hard is with luring in regular customers. I got a rating card on my first visit, and used it to play some video poker. I used it again this time. You also supposedly get rewards when buying food at any of the restaurants, and I did. Well, I have yet to hear from Revel’s marketing department. No offers, no postcards, no emails. There is no way to log into the website to view offers. Borgata and Harrah’s give out free weeknight rooms like candy at Halloween, but Revel? Yeah, if you have a premium card from Harrah’s or Trump, but apparently not for the hoi polloi. Sure, Revel doesn’t seem as cool, but let me stay a couple nights and I’ll give it another chance.

Until then, Borgata it is. I don’t seem to be alone in this evaluation: the joint is not exactly packed, and despite being only a few months old and being Governor Christie’s pet project, it’s already having financial problems. So it goes.

Revel went out of business not long after I wrote this.