The only thing missing from an 11th-hour special hearing — spanning two days — with the New Jersey Casino Control Commission was the playing of “One Shining Moment” by Luther Vandross.
The hearing began Wednesday and concluded the following day. And, like a championship-winning buzzer-beater, Ocean Resort Casino was granted a casino license just seven days ahead of the casino’s scheduled grand opening.
Ocean Resort Casino narrowly beats the buzzer
Ocean Resort Casino owner Bruce Deifik will not have much time to celebrate a key victory, considering his casino is still expecting to open next Thursday.
That said, Deifik, who teared up during Wednesday’s hearing thinking about how much time and work that has been poured into the project, is certainly giddy that this process is complete.
Ocean Resort had to meet certain standards and benchmarks before the CCC could grant the casino its license. Among them was demonstrating good moral character, honesty, and integrity, proving sufficient financial resources, and demonstrating a casino and business savvy.
There were also 26 financial conditions with which Ocean Resort has to comply to ensure the viability and stability of the property.
Even after the CCC called into question the wisdom behind Ocean Resort Casino opening the same day as Hard Rock Atlantic City, the committee granted Ocean Resort its casino license with a blessing for it to stick to its June 28 date.
Casino executives projected that Ocean Resort would capture at least 10 percent of the gaming market upon opening and generate $384.6 million in net revenue in 2019. Ocean Resort CFO Alan Greenstein estimated the casino raking in $292 million in overall gambling revenue in its first year.
Ocean Resort still has some work to be done in order to be complete. There are 12 unfinished floors, for example, and the casino’s center-of-the-room sportsbook lounge is still under construction.
Yet after paying $279 million — out of his own pocket and with help from JPMorgan Chase and Luxor Capital Group — Deifik received the casino license that officially puts Ocean Resort Casino on the Boardwalk.
Deifik’s background brought to light
A longer line of questioning was based around Deifik’s past investments, one of which included being a majority member of the failed mixed martial arts association, World Series of Fighting.
Last fall, a complaint was filed against Deifik, along with other proprietors of the WSOF, alleging breach of contract and civil RICO among 10 total causes of action. Deifik said during Wednesday’s testimony that “quite a few lawsuits” associated with that investment came about and some are still pending.
The line of inquiry was justified, in a way. Past developers and owners of the properties — from Kevin DeSanctis and Revel to Glenn Straub and TEN — basically drove themselves into bankruptcy and, eventually, out of business.
During an emotional Wednesday testimony, however, Deifik continued to stand by his investments in Ocean Resort. Much of the purchase, he said, came out of his own pocket, including a $10 million nonrefundable deposit without ever having been to Atlantic City.
Deifik truly believes in the effect the casino could have on the area.
“I’m a huge believer,” Deifik said. “I changed my life to be here in Atlantic City. We will surprise the world.”
Surprisingly little concern leading up
For months, Ocean Resort and Hard Rock Atlantic City have been in a dead heat toward their debuts on the Boardwalk. Both targeted June 28 as their grand opening. Yet while Hard Rock AC locked up its casino license May 9, Ocean Resort continued to wait.
Ocean Resort expressed little concern about the delay. In fact, Seth Schorr, CEO of Fifth Street Gaming and an adviser to Ocean Resort, told PlayNJ.com that it was “certainly not anything anybody’s worried about at this point,” even if a casino license was pivotal if the resort intended to be fully operational right away.
Among the services Ocean Resort intends to offer is sports betting. After the US Supreme Court struck down PASPA in May, and Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill early last week, NJ sports betting went live last Thursday.
Ocean Resort expects to offer sports betting right away, as the casino has an agreement with the US arm of British bookmaker William Hill for its sportsbook. The sportsbook lounge will not be complete, but the casino is expecting to have temporary booths for bettors to place wagers.
Everything was adding up for Ocean Resort to play a key factor in revitalizing Atlantic City as a tourist destination. And with Thursday’s ruling to grant it a casino license, the incoming Atlantic City casino is now primed to do just that.
“I personally believe it’s the greatest comeback story in the gambling business,” Schorr said last week. “In the history of gambling, in terms of a comeback story, I don’t know of any jurisdiction that has had some ups and downs that is coming back with such great force and excitement. Between two major resorts opening the same month that sports betting is being legalized in that jurisdiction, that’s a trifecta of opportunity and excitement.”
The latest step in lifting an AC curse
The property on which Ocean Resort sits had been littered with bad luck and mismanagement.
In 2006, Morgan Stanley purchased the lot for $70 million, handing the reins to DeSanctis. Four years and $1.2 billion later, Morgan Stanley cut ties with the project.
A $261 million allowance was then approved by then-Gov. Chris Christie to help the half-constructed project continue, which was followed in 2011 by on-site accidents and more than a dozen contractors suing the company over unpaid work.
Revel did open in 2012, but immediately began losing money. The casino twice filed for bankruptcy over the next two years. In 2014, Revel closed its doors.
Straub purchased the property for $82 million and rebranded it TEN. The new casino had planned to open by February 2017. But, aside from a social online casino being launched, that never came to fruition. Straub then targeted a June 2017 opening, which also never came to be.
AC Ocean Walk bought the property in January and renamed it Ocean Resort Casino. The ownership group, headed by Deifik, announced plans to pour $175 million into remodeling and repairs while aiming for a summer 2018 opening.
Deifik testified before the CCC on Wednesday that he had never been to Atlantic City until last year. Now, not only is his casino on track for a headlining opening next week, but he may have just exorcised the demons of this AC property.