Atlantic City’s Last Great Hope?

Revel, Atlantic City’s first new casino in nearly a decade, has been called “Cosmopolitan East,” for its similarities, real and supposed to the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Like the Cosmo, it’s put a great deal of emphasis on its non-gaming amenities, and, like the Cosmo, it’s struggled on the casino floor. In June, Revel’s win per slot per day—a valuable metric of casino performance—was the lowest in the city.

At first glance, the casino, which had a soft opening in April and is still not fully functional, seems to have it all: gorgeous architecture, award-winning chefs from across the Northeast, and flawlessly styled rooms with ocean views. Yet even a casino as beleaguered as Trump Plaza is outperforming it. Usually, the newest casino jumps to the top of the market within a matter of weeks. What’s going on?

Mostly, bad timing. When the project started in 2007, it was one of a wave of casinos expected to transform Atlantic City: MGM Resorts and Pinnacle Entertainment had already announced mega-resorts that would begin construction soon, and other companies, from Penn National to Wynn Resorts, were scoping out sites.

The double-whammy of the credit crunch and ramped-up competition from Pennsylvania shelved all of those projects except Revel, which scraped its way to the finish line by the thinnest of margins. As a result, it’s not so much Cosmo East as what The Mirage would have been in the 1990s had the construction cranes stopped everywhere else in 1988.

Revel will either prove that Atlantic City’s best days are behind it or spark a renaissance. If the property can start posting strong numbers, others might want to roll the dice and build the kind of first-rate attractions that can save the city. If not, it could be decades before Atlantic City sees another large-scale project.