A few months earlier, in Las Vegas, Nevada, a Tennessee accountant won the World Series of Poker Main Event. He got in the tournament through an online satellite. It was a story that would eventually help ignite a massive boom in the game’s popularity. However, coverage had not yet aired on ESPN. The story had not reached the masses in any kind of significant way when Borgata opened to the public.
Borgata was really Atlantic City’s first Las Vegas-style hotel and casino, opening with a massive bank of slots, 200 table games, and a wide array of top-quality nightlife, entertainment, and restaurant options. It was the kind of place the East Coast gambling Mecca had never seen before. It bucked trends in all kinds of ways.
Borgata opened a 34-table poker room at the same time most of the other Atlantic City casinos were pulling out of poker.
The Taj and the Trop
The New Jersey State Legislature made live poker legal in 1993. The Trump Taj Mahal opened a 50-table room in the summer of 1993 and it immediately became the center of the East Coast poker universe. It stayed that way for five years until 1998, when the 40-table poker room at the Tropicana opened up and emerged as a contender to the Taj Mahal crown.
The Taj and the Trop ran a fierce rivalry for the next few years. They were Atlantic City poker’s Coke and Pepsi.
However, before Borgata opened, the popularity of the game was waning in both rooms.
There were only about 125 poker tables in operation in all of Atlantic City at the time and Borgata opened up with a room close to 25 percent of the size of the existing market.
When poker did boom they were certainly ready for it. In fact, in 2006, with poker’s popularity peaking, the property underwent a $200 million expansion, increasing the number of tables in the poker room to 85.
Borgata was the Atlantic City poker market leader from the day it opened. No casino even dared test its dominance for almost a decade. Then along came Revel.
The Revel poker room
It cost $2.4 billion to build Revel Casino Hotel (pictured). The process was mired by massive financial issues and divisive labor disputes that forced the scope of project to be scaled back. Its opening was delayed several times.
It finally did open on April 2, 2012. The upscale casino resort was designed to compete with Borgata, even when it came to poker.
Revel’s luxurious poker room was opened on the upper mezzanine level with a view of the Revel casino below. Decorated in lustrous red carpeting and warm ornamental light canopies, it featured 37 tables and a feeling of exclusivity and opulence.
The room was strategically located to take advantage of the crowds coming out of the casino’s 5,000-seat Ovation Hall entertainment venue. However, those crowds never really showed up.
Revel’s poker room opened as the fourth-largest of nine operating in Atlantic City at the time. However, it consistently placed second to last in poker revenues. The room regularly reported less than six figures in revenue per month. In the meantime, Borgata consistently raked in close to $2 million per month.
In August 2013, Revel gave up and closed its poker room. Management made some noise about offering poker again in the future. They said it could come back as a component of the overall strategy related to online gambling. However, the entire property shut down a little over a year later on Sept. 2, 2014.
Ocean Resort Casino
Revel’s more recent history has been well documented. A deal to sell the property to Brookfield Asset Management at auction for $110 million fell apart. Then, on April 7, 2015, Florida developer Glenn Straub bought it out of bankruptcy for $82 million.
Straub made plans to reopen Revel under the name TEN. He set and missed several reopening dates over the next two years. All this while in a fight with state regulators over whether he should have to get a casino license.
In came AC Ocean Walk in late 2017. Straub denied the property was for sale. However, AC Ocean Walk announced in early January 2018 it had acquired Revel for $200 million. The property will be re-branded again. This time it will be called Ocean Resort Casino when it opens up in the summer of 2018.
AC Ocean Walk and online gambling software platform provider GAN have announced they plan to enter into the real money regulated online gaming business together. However, there is no word as to whether live poker will be a component of the new owner’s overall strategy related to online gambling, or anything else for that matter.
An Ocean Resort Casino poker room
If it is, and Ocean Resort Casino wants to compete with Borgata, AC Ocean Walk may want to remember the mistakes its predecessors made. Or else it could be condemned to repeat them.
The Revel poker room was certainly luxurious. However, poker players would clearly rather play in a an atmosphere more akin to a sports bar than a fine dining establishment. Ocean Resort Casino would do well to keep the upper mezzanine level location, with its feeling of separation and view of the Revel casino below.
Strategically locating the room to take advantage of the crowds coming out of an entertainment venue wasn’t a bad idea. It might even pay off over time and Ocean Resort Casino ought to stick with it.
However, it ought to ditch the lustrous red carpeting and mood lighting. Instead, it should try banks of HD TVs with all the major league sports packages available.
Opening with a smaller but effective 37 to 40 tables is also a good idea. It’s ambitious, but not too ambitious. It also gives them room to grow.
Better bad beat jackpots and comps required
The poker room at Revel was never busier than in the days before it closed. That’s because management made an effort to give away what was left in its bad beat jackpot fund. They ran $500 hourly high hand promotions and lowered the threshold for the bad beat until it was hit.
Standard bad beat jackpots and skimpy comps aren’t going to help pull market share away from Borgata. Ocean Resort Casino can learn one thing from Revel’s failed attempt at poker. It’s that loosening the reigns on promos can help draw crowds.
Any easy-to-hit bad beat jackpot and high hand promotions are great ways to pull people in. They can make it seem like the room is just giving away money.
You need solid dealers, staff and decent regular tournament structures. You require great food and excellent all around service. These things will ultimately keep players coming back. However, if Ocean Resort Casino can manage all of that from the start, its poker room would have a chance at competing with Borgata for the Atlantic City crown. Or at least at coming in a solid second.