If 2020 was a normal year, Ocean Casino Resort would be in the middle of celebrating its second anniversary.
Instead, thanks to the current year being far from routine, the focus shifts to July 2.
Today, at 8 a.m, Ocean Casino will welcome back guests for the first time since March 16 when Atlantic City casinos were forced to close due to coronavirus pandemic.
Over the course of those 107 days, CEO Terry Glebocki and the team have been putting in long hours preparing for the big day.
And it included dialing into a Casino Control Commission hearing. For those who missed it, Luxor Capital Group received approval to own Ocean Casino.
Play NJ spoke exclusively with Glebocki and Mike Donovan, chief marketing officer and senior vice president, about reopening, safety, and the future.
Ocean is ready for July 2 reopening
PlayNJ: Reopening is fast approaching. What is the mood on property right now?
Glebocki: People are ecstatic. We’ve had over 1,000 people come on the property this week since we’ve been calling them back, and more are scheduled next week. Everybody is very grateful to be back.
PlayNJ: What has it been like to get business back up and running?
Glebocki: So I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I have never lived through anything quite like this.
The last three months we’ve been working diligently on our reopening plans. From the minute we closed our doors, we started planning how can we reopen in a way that is safe and looks at the well-being and the health of our guests and our team members. So we have been working really, really hard on that.
PlayNJ: Is it only a certain percentage of team members and staff to start because of the 25% capacity?
Glebocki: So typically after the spring we would gear up for the summer and we would hire 400 to 500 people in seasonal help.
Right now we are not hiring as many seasonals as we would in the past, but we are bringing back people in those operational areas that will be open. We are bringing back the EVS [Environmental Services] team …. because the cleanliness couldn’t be more important. We are actually bolstering out environmental team. Our housekeepers are back. Our security is back.
But we will not be reopening with Ovation Hall because you are not allowed to have large venues like that open yet. So we have not brought our entertainment team back.
A PPE crash course was in the cards
PlayNJ: Is there going to be a rule that players have to scrub their hands after so many hands?
Glebocki: Hand sanitizer is everywhere. I have a bottle of it on my desk right now. We have installed over 200 fixed locations throughout the casino.
Plus we ordered 5,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. Anywhere you look, every table game will have a bottle, and it will be offered to people at the beginning and end of their play, if they choose to use it.
It will be at every hotel desk window. It will be at every hostess stand. It will be outside each restaurant. It’s at every cage window. So you can find it throughout the floor, and you can find it everywhere will you will need it.
Donovan: We bought over a quarter-million pieces of PPE [personal protection equipment] for our guests and our team in the amount of time that we have been here.
Terry and I have joked that we have learned more about PPE than we ever cared to. And our director of risk management actually said that we are certified in PPE now.
If guests don’t have a mask we will provide one. The expectation is most people, especially in the state of New Jersey, will have one.
Editor’s Note: They are plain black masks for those wondering about the style.
Glebocki: [Masks] are mandatory for guests. They are mandatory for team members. Team members have each been given two reusable cloth masks so that they have a uniformed look.
Facing challenges after reopening in Atlantic City
PlayNJ: What are the greatest challenges the property will face when it reopens?
Glebocki: There is going to be a lot of new things that we’ve never had to deal with before. So making sure that people are maintaining their social distancing. Making sure that people are abiding by these new rules. The future is very uncertain at this point, so adapting.
We are planning that every day there is going to be something that could be done differently or better, and we are going to want to adapt each day.
So I’ve already got on everybody’s calendar a daily meeting, and at least once a day, we will talk about the challenges and how to overcome them.
But I think that is going to be one of the most difficult things. Things that we can’t foresee happening because it’s a brave new world.
Donovan: We can’t forget the big picture either. We are facing a lot of headwinds in the entertainment industry because of the obvious challenges that we have.
So all of the additional changes we’ve made for health and wellness, our limited seating capacity, our limited restaurant availability, the additional safety measures.
I think we have to work even harder to make sure that the guests have a somewhat similar experience to what they had before and they want to return back to the property. Because we’ve heard that from a lot of other jurisdictions.
They go there, there are no restaurants open, there are no games open, there is really nobody there. It wasn’t what they were used to.
We have to work even harder on our side to make it somewhat similar to what people were used to before and give them that experience. Go the extra way with customer service, and do all the things that are difficult to do, but we need to work harder to do them.
Ocean Casino is ideal for social distancing
PlayNJ: Ocean Casino has a very unique situation as the casino is a very large footprint, and you also have extremely high ceilings. How does this help to better prepare for these new protocols?
Glebocki: I think that we are well situated for the large footprint that we have. It’s ideal for social distancing. …
We have over three acres of outdoor space. … The actual building itself is over six million square feet, 6.4 million square feet, so plenty of space for social distancing.
Even our slot machines are situated, not like a traditional, older style property. We’ve got a lot of carousels and smaller pods of machines that allowed people to have that distance, even before COVID.
PlayNJ: What is Ocean doing with its valet drop-off area?
Glebocki: We are not going to offer valet parking immediately. I think in time as people become more comfortable with that we will reintroduce it.
We are going to leave availability for rideshares and for people to get dropped off at the front door. And we are arranging the food trucks in such a way that we can accommodate both.
Editor’s note: We spoke with Ocean prior to Gov. Phil Murphy deciding to delay the scheduled July 2 restart of indoor dining. Opening weekend will include beer and food trucks in the porte cochere area. For an update on other available take-out options and amenities, click here.
Ocean enjoying NJ online casino growth
PlayNJ: Can you talk a little bit about the online casino growth since casinos closed the middle of March?
Glebocki: When the casinos first closed, we saw a huge pickup in the sign-ups that we had. And we have seen growth of over 60% in our online gaming. Most significant increases were in March and April right after the shutdown.
Donovan: We have a pretty small footprint online, but we had the time now during the closure to work on a lot of different initiatives that we think will accelerate our revenues into the future. We are working with finally getting iOS up and running. That is with the (Division of Gaming Enforcement) for approvals, so hopefully [we’ll] get something shortly on that. We’ve got live dealer [coming soon, too]. …
It’s been productive from an iGaming side since the shutdown. We got a lot done with our online piece.
Ocean Casino + road to recovery
PlayNJ: If we look into the future, Ocean and all of the Atlantic City casinos have this giant mountain to climb. How long do you think it will take for casinos to return to pre-pandemic levels?
Glebocki: I wish I could answer that question. I have no way of knowing.
Certainly, we spend a bunch of time putting different models out there as to what we think it could be, but your guess is as good as mine.
What we’ve seen in the past though is Atlantic City has always been very resilient, so we are very optimistic here. Ocean had a ton of momentum going into the closure. We had eight months of double-digit year-over-year growth.
We were making money, and we were beating our budget for this year. This just stopped us in our tracks as it did everybody, so it’s our goal to get back that momentum.
PlayNJ: There were plans/talks of making property upgrades prior to the shutdown. Where do those projects stand right now?
Glebocki: We had to put that on hold because we had no idea how long the closure was going to last and if you could even have construction workers in the property doing things. … The build-out of the rooms? Time will tell on that.
We need to see what the demand is and see how quickly we are able to get back to where we were when we left off. So those things are temporary on hold.
Under normal circumstances, you would never do a [casino] floor reconfiguration during the summer anyway. At this point, we are going to hold through the summer, and then reassess come the fall.
PlayNJ: Do you have any closing thoughts?
Glebocki: We are just so excited.
This was a really fun job up until three months ago. We had seen such a turnaround with the building. It was finally starting to work, and we were getting such great feedback from our guests.
We don’t want to let them down now with this reopening. We are going to work our tails off to make them feel comfortable when they come back. And make my job a little more fun again in the future.