There is no doubt Ocean Casino Resort has experienced some rough financial tides during its first 11 months. But Luxor Capital — the new owner in transition — is focused on future growth.
After all, the big one-year anniversary on June 28 is fast approaching.
The party-like vibe is literally starting off with a bang. A joint fireworks celebration for Ocean and Hard Rock Atlantic City (also turning one) is taking place on June 27 at 9:30 p.m. Additional events will be announced soon.
But what exactly is Ocean Casino hoping to achieve during its second year on the Boardwalk? And what did it learn from the first year in action?
Play NJ caught up with Mike Donovan, Ocean’s chief marketing officer. And there was plenty to chat about:
- Farewell, Ocean Resort Casino.
- Status of Luxor Capital officially taking control
- Update on online casino gambling
- New and exciting things on the horizon
Reintroducing Ocean Casino Resort
Ocean (previously known as Revel, Ten and Ocean Resort Casino) is shifting its focus to a casino-first mindset. Former owner, the late Bruce Deifik who died in a car crash in April, reopened the property last summer with a resort-first focus.
Cutting right to the chase, we asked Donovan the importance of the casino floor.
“Now as Ocean Casino Resort we are a casino that happens to have these great resort amenities like the hotel rooms, like all the restaurants,” Donovan said.
“We’re definitely focused on putting our casino guests first in everything that we do and given them much more competitive offers, better than anything else that they’re going to see regionally in hopefully the northeast.”
The new Atlantic City casino model
The Ocean management team is clearly getting its new marketing message across. The billboards on the Atlantic City Expressway hint at changes ahead for the property.
But the AC market is much different these days. New Jersey is no longer the only state on the East Coast with casino gambling.
Rummy Pandit, executive director of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism, mentioned that Atlantic City has been “casino first” for the past 40 years.
But back then, AC had an East Coast monopoly on casino gaming.
“That monopoly,” said Pandit, “no longer exists as every year, every month more states launch new and expanded gaming products to compete with traditional casinos.”
“As Atlantic City as a whole strives to provide distinctive customer experiences unique to the city as a destination resort, we may see less ‘casino-first’ and more ‘experience-first’ of which casino gaming will continue to play a significant, but not monolithic, part. The profitability of Ocean moving forward will rely, as it always has, on providing a quality, in-demand product to consumers.”
Luxor Capital moving in and making changes
Earlier this year, the news surrounding the property was more of turmoil, confusion, and missed financial targets.
Back in January, six months after opening, rumors of the building being for sale started swirling. And by February, we learned the identity of the mystery buyer. The new owners are in the process of finalizing regulatory approval.
Donovan said it could come by late June or July, but “we really don’t know 100 percent of the timeline on that.”
And in terms of a current status report, here is what Donovan shared:
“I think that they’re happy with the progress the property has made so far.
“It’s definitely happened a lot faster than they had imagined. April was our highest net slot win month in the property’s history. I think with some of the initiatives that we’ve put in effect, we’ve definitely seen the revenues increase.”
And the phrase highest, busiest slot month in the property’s history is as Donovan puts it: “historically what the property had always missed.”
“It had done good table games business, good cash business, non-gaming hotel wise. We’ve really put a lot of initiatives in place to drive [those] core slot customers to the property.”
But land-based revenue is the focus for now
Ocean Online Casino launched last summer, but like the property’s land-based casino revenue, the platform has struggled to establish a customer base. It continues to finish last among the seven license holders.
But this important revenue source will be getting some attention in the coming months. Improving things on the brick-and-mortar end, however, remains the primary focus.
Donovan hinted at some activity going on behind the scenes.
“We’re slowly but surely figuring out our relationship,” he said. “We have some more news for the summertime that we’ll announce, but we’re trying to find what the right business model is for that.
“Really, in the first 90 days our approach has been, let’s fix land base first. Then we’ve got simultaneously our team’s working on what’s the best way to get more business on our online portals. There’s several micro issues that we’ve got to work through on that side.”
Adding additional online partners remains a possibility.
William Hill + Ocean Casino
But to be fair, Ocean wasted little time recognizing the importance of NJ sports betting revenue. Having a 7,500-square-foot William Hill-branded sportsbook in the center of the casino floor paints that message loud and clear.
The space serves as a prime draw for all of the major sporting events, March Madness betting included.
“… Again, like March Madness, you see why the state wanted to do sports betting in the first place. It brought in a lot of people that otherwise probably weren’t coming to New Jersey or Atlantic City,” Donovan said.
“They came down here. It was great for our hotel business. It was great for our non-gaming business. It was great for our table games. It built a lot of excitement in the casino. It was nice to see because it wasn’t great weather.”
NJ online sports betting growth for Ocean Casino
Ocean is one of several AC casinos with room to expand. At least, there’s room to expand in the online realm. Each license holder is permitted to have three sportsbook skins under its umbrella, which means there is room for a party of two at Ocean.
If Ocean is planning something, they are not talking publicly about it. But here is where things get interesting.
Back in late April, David Rebuck, director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, hinted more products are in the works.
Pandit said he sees NJ sports betting and online gambling continuing to play a big role going forward, especially with new consumers.
“New consumers may not be familiar with traditional casino gaming products, but they are likely familiar with sports and online games. We should expect to see casino operators continue to expand their sports betting and online gambling products to appeal to this audience.”
“Further diversification in both gaming and non-gaming products will also serve to reach a broader base of consumers and engage them across multiple products and revenue streams.”
Ocean is ready to dive into summer
Atlantic City visitors love taking a swim in the Atlantic Ocean during the prime summer season at the Jersey Shore.
And a name like Ocean and being part of the Hyatt Unbound Collection means customers are going to be curious about what the property offers. Just as they were last year when the property re-opened.
This Atlantic City property certainly has more to offer. It helps not having to worry about getting open in time for Fourth of July weekend. Besides the fireworks, Ocean will be hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony, aka a grand re-opening.
Charlie Wilson is performing June 29 at Ovation Hall. The 1927 Lounge & Speakeasy (replacing Ivan Kane’s Royal Jelly) is slated for a June opening, too. And it’s located just off the casino floor.
A long-awaited buffet and additional hotel rooms are in the planning stages, too.
And by the way, self-parking is free for all Ocean Premier Card holders. Golden Nugget is the only other AC casino currently offering free parking.
As Ocean approaches its second summer, Donovan said the property is much more efficient. This includes adding two new elevators that will take guests from the hotel lobby to the casino floor and vise versa. Believe it or not, the previous owners failed to address this issue.
As of Memorial Day weekend, the problem was resolved.
“The property wasn’t really developed around the casino, and we’re still having to work through some of those issues,” Donovan said.
But, more importantly, Ocean and its new owners are betting on AC for the long haul.