Atlantic City is known for its gambling, but the city’s casino industry has seen its fair share of failures.
The list of failed casinos is extensive and includes Trump Plaza, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Marina, Showboat, Atlantic Club, Sands, Claridge and the original Golden Nugget.
But when it comes to botched casinos, one is in a class of its own: Ocean Casino Resort (nee Ocean Resort Casino, nee TEN, nee Revel).
Opened in 2012, the casino was the most recent addition to the AC casino market. However, that hasn’t helped.
Ocean Casino Resort already had been through two bankruptcies, one closure, a state bailout, and five owners since it was first conceived roughly 10 years ago.
According to a recent AP report, the casino’s latest owners, Luxor Capital Group, believe it is ready to turn the property’s fortunes around. That would mean doing something no one else has been able to do: Make Revel/TEN/Ocean Resort Casino/Casino Resort profitable.
Luxor’s interim CEO Eric Matejevich told the AP that $50 million of the $70 million Luxor invested in the property during the takeover was used to pay down debt.
Matejevich believes that a greatly improved balance sheet is the secret sauce that will guide the casino to profitability this month.
From there, Luxor plans to begin reinvesting in the property.
What’s Luxor planning?
Ocean Casino has plans to add 500 hotel rooms and 200 slot machines.
That sounds good, but slot machine and hotel room inventory don’t appear to be a problem.
Ocean had an occupancy rate of 86.8% in the third quarter of 2018 (AC’s busy season). The industry average was 88.2%. Occupancy fell to 67% in the fourth quarter of 2018, which was, once again, below the industry average of 72%.
The casino also boasts nearly 2,000 slot machines on its gaming floor. That’s on par with the bigger casinos in the market such as Harrah’s, Hard Rock and Caesars. Yet, Ocean ranks near the bottom when it comes to gambling revenue.
That almost certainly equates to a lot of unoccupied machines.
According to the AP, Luxor also plans to upgrade the property’s dining and entertainment options.
The property still lacks AC casino staples such as a buffet or the opening of a long-planned, but yet-to-materialize Starbucks in the lobby.
These changes would go a long way in addressing some of the problems that have plagued the property’s prior business models. Namely that the $2.4 billion high-end property is the wrong type of casino for the AC market.
What else should Luxor do?
Unfortunately, none of Luxor’s plans address the underlying problem with Ocean Casino: brand recognition.
The biggest hurdle Ocean needs to overcome is its reputation and history. The calamity that was Revel (and the confusing Glenn Straub era) is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Until Ocean Casino sheds the moniker of “the former Revel,” people are going to have negative memories and feelings toward the property. And for all the investment that’s been done, Ocean still looks and feels like Revel.
On top of that, Ocean Casino Resort is a mammoth property with a lot of overhead.
It doesn’t have time to build its brand over a period of five years. Without a strong, trusted brand, or the extensive database of its competitors, Ocean can open a buffet, and add rooms and slot machines until it’s blue in the face, but it won’t be the quick fix it’s hoping for.
Until Ocean reduces its brand deficit, it’s going to have issues gaining market share in Atlantic City.
To accomplish that, Ocean will need to get creative (beyond upping the number of emails it sends to former customers) and start pinpointing and leveraging areas where its competitors are weak.
The property already squandered a golden opportunity to leverage its best-in-market retail sportsbook.
“No one is going to have anything like it on the East Coast or in Atlantic City for a while,” Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck told Play NJ in August.
“They have an opportunity there. They will have the best sports betting facility (for a short period of time). So, take advantage of it and get people in your property.”
Not doing enough online
The only casinos Ocean is competitive with (in terms of land-based revenue) are Resorts and Golden Nugget. Both are much smaller in scale than Ocean Casino, and both possess something Ocean doesn’t: A strong NJ online casino presence.
In fact, it’s the online portion of their businesses that keeps these properties afloat. As Play NJ opined earlier this year, “Golden Nugget generates roughly one-third of all revenue from online gambling. It’s no stretch to say that Golden Nugget AC might not exist without Golden Nugget online casino.”
Ocean’s online gambling offerings have failed to gain any traction. And like its land-based casino, its online struggles stem from branding.
Soon after it opened its doors in June 2018, Ocean launched an eponymously branded online casino site. That site failed to make a splash in a sea of big names.
The good news is there’s a possibility of a new online gaming partnership with Wynn Resorts. Adding a second, well-known brand to its online offerings would be a step in the right direction.