ATLANTIC CITY — At this time last year, Ocean Casino Resort was struggling financially and many industry watchers wondered whether it could survive the brutal winter months along the Jersey Shore, when visitation to the city’s gambling parlors drops off.
But a large infusion of funding, changes in upper management and a shift in focus toward the core casino gambler have all breathed new life into the property formerly known as Revel Casino Hotel. And while not completely out of the woods, the management team at Ocean believes the resort has turned a corner and its best days are still ahead.
“If you look at our numbers, they speak for themselves,” said Mike Donovan, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Ocean. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and build on the success that we’ve had this year. Ocean is going to be here for a long time.”
Ocean has reported double-digit gains in total gaming revenue for three consecutive months, and Donovan said October will make four.
During the property’s life as Revel (2012-14), monthly casino win — combined revenue from slot and table games — was $20 million or more just three times. Ocean has eclipsed $20 million in monthly casino win three times this year, including $24.1 million in August, which was the highest in the property’s history as either entity.
David G. Schwartz, associate vice provost at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and former director of the school’s Center for Gaming Research, said creating an identity that resonates with customers is a key component because Ocean is not connected to a network of other casino operators. He added Ocean has done a “good job” incorporating sports betting and online gaming into its overall identity as well.
“The casino has also needed to distinguish itself, and it has,” Schwartz said. “Judging from the casino’s marketing, it looks like the management is making the most of the property itself, including its ocean views, which is another point of difference with casinos, not just in Atlantic City, but throughout the region.”
Donovan said the recent gains in casino revenue were the result of targeted marketing and increased promotional offers.
“We’ve been laser-focused on how do we attract a casino customer and how do we get slot customers to make us their home,” he said. “I think we’ve done that in a lot of respects and we still have a lot of work to go. And that’s great, because that’s a lot of runway for us to make this place more profitable down the line and grow the business as we continue to get better with our execution.”
The optimism coming from Ocean today is in stark contrast to where it was 12 months ago when state gaming regulators revealed the operation had lost $23 million in seven months.
The fallout resulted in Luxor Capital Group, a New York City-based hedge fund and one of the property’s primary financiers, assuming control and installing new executives to run the casino hotel. Luxor pumped more than $70 million into Ocean, paying down a portion of the property’s outstanding loan obligations and investing in capital improvements.
Among the first things the new management changed was the name, from Ocean Resort Casino to Ocean Casino Resort. It was a subtle tweak to the property’s identity that reestablished what its priorities were.
“The issue was there was no identity. Sixty percent of the market was not aware of the Ocean brand, and we were constantly known as Revel,” said Diane Spiers, vice president of advertising and marketing for Ocean. “We had to change perception because there was so much negative associated with the property. Now, consumers have confidence in us. We have definitely turned that corner.”
Ocean still has ground to make up in terms of being a long-term profitable operation. In four full quarters since the property opened on June 27, 2018, Ocean has reported positive gross operating profits just once.
Donovan said that when 2019 third-quarter profit reports are released in late November, they will reflect Ocean’s most lucrative three-month period in the property’s history.
“We’re excited to post continued strong numbers even after we get out of summertime,” he said. “And we’re going to continue that momentum for the next year because we’re constantly refining what we’re doing here.”