Some people like casinos. Others, not so much.
Valerie Pageau? In the "not so much" camp. And she told Kevin DeSanctis. Flat out. But he's not a guy who's easily thrown.
DeSanctis, a former New Jersey state trooper turned casino exec, is CEO of Revel Inc. And five years ago, he enlisted Pageau, of the Montreal design firm Sceno Plus, to help him create the newest, hippest, most unusual hotel-casino Atlantic City has ever seen.
"A.C." needs a boost -- gaming revenue there has dipped 36 percent since 2007.
Enter Revel. Plagued by setbacks, the $2.4-billion oceanfront complex is finally ready. It had a "soft open" last month, and opens for real Memorial Day weekend -- with Beyonce in concert. It contains the first new casino to open in A.C. in almost a decade. And it's perhaps the coolest thing to hit the boardwalk since ocean spray.
Revel hopes to entice gamblers and nongamblers alike with 14 restaurants, 10 pools, two nightclubs, two theaters, a spa, shopping and beach access. And no smoke. Yep, it's the area's first smoke-free casino.
"They chose us because we knew nothing about casinos," says Pageau, who designed the casino interior and other public spaces. "They wanted to create something really different."
A new generation
The 47-story glass tower rises along the north end of the boardwalk like a sleek platinum credit card. A large sphere perches atop the roof -- imagine a massive golf ball about to roll off and cannonball into the surf.
It's big -- 6.3 million square feet and more than 1,800 rooms, each with floor-to-ceiling windows and ocean views (starting at $239 a night).
"You've gotta go to Florida to find anything that comes close," says Revel's executive architect, Michael Prifti, of BLT Architects in Philadelphia.
Don't expect straight lines -- Revel is all about sexy curves and colorful sculptures dangling from the ceiling. Unexpected seating areas (great for people-watching) pop up everywhere. Some look mod and swiped from "Mad Men." Others, with crazy-huge lamps or coffee tables like giant polished pebbles, resemble something out of "The Jetsons." Or Cirque du Soleil.
No surprise -- Sceno Plus, one of 65 design teams that contributed to Revel, has worked with Cirque.
"Kevin wants to bring the new generation, the 30- and 40-year-olds out of New York," says Sceno president Patrick Berge. So Berge chose Pageau, then only 26, to lead the firm's design effort.
"We needed fresh ideas," he says.
Like the entrance, which allows you to bypass the casino entirely. You enter a glass atrium with giant floating confetti. Escalators whisk you to "Revelry" (the casino, 61 feet above sea level), The Mezzanine (160,000 square feet of conference rooms, plus a 4,500-seat theater, at 87 feet) or the hotel (114 feet and up).
'61 feet high and half naked'
There's a mantra here: "See and be seen," Prifti explains.
You'll do both: on the Mezzanine overlooking the casino; the outdoor SkyGarden (with its winding paths and indigenous pines); the indoor-outdoor pool (with bar, game room and cabanas offering bottle service); or Bask spa (featuring a coed bathhouse and salt grotto -- a room lined with salt bricks exuding a "purifying" mist).
Slip through private hotel-guests-only entrance to the hotel's elevators and you pass a series of living rooms where guests can relax, amid shelves teeming with browsable coffee-table books and kitschy artifacts -- from giant Legos, jacks and dice to retro-looking tins from the "Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.," labeled Speed of Light, X-ray Vision, Muscle.
A cheeky sense of humor lurks beneath Revel's thick veneer of cool. Room keys are inscribed with messages, such as "Fortune favors the fun," and "61 feet high and half naked."
Guest rooms, in soothing neutral tones, offer leather chairs, mega flat-screens, soaking tubs, even space-age room service -- sensors detect when you place your tray in the hall, so soggy French fries don't sit there till morning.
Breaking the rules
Despite the innovation, Revel is risky.
A smoke-free casino? Gamblers smoke. The place also has no buffet, no Player's Lounge (a restricted room with astronomical minimum bets) and no VIP lines.
"Every guest should be a VIP," says DeSanctis.
Then there's the daylight thing -- you can see it. In the casino. Radical.
"Why would you put your resort next to the beach, then hide everything?" Pageau asks. "We didn't want to play that game. We're not trying to fool anybody here."
The casino is vast, with more than 2,500 slot machines and game tables.
Given that different games attract different players, Pageau created game "neighborhoods," with unique lighting, music, decor. For the digital generation, there's a "digipit," where players bet with electronic chips and cards. (Dancers using nearby stripper poles will presumably be real.) And craps tables are near a bar, where patrons can observe the action (remember -- see and be seen) and cheer others on.
High stakes, and steaks
Restaurants surround the casino, including Lugo (casual Italian); Mussel Bar (a Belgian gastro pub); and One, from The One Group (American, with a youthful, rocker vibe).
"Iron Chef America" winner Jose Garces has three eateries, including his Guapos taco truck, and Amada, a romantic Spanish tapas bar.
And one flight below you'll find Bellerose native and Michelin-star winner Marc Forgione's American Cut.
"You've no idea you're in a casino, which is cool," says Forgione, standing in his kitchen, prepping for the dinner rush.
Like his acclaimed Manhattan restaurant, Forgione's place is classy, a steakhouse with hints of what lies upstairs -- like the "Gold Bar" potatoes, which "look like gold bars in slot machines," he says.
Forgione is convinced Atlantic City can become a destination rivaling Vegas: "You've got the cabanas, DJs, beach, great chefs. It's like -- what do you have to get on a plane for? Just get in your car."
It's a shore thing
It has been a while since DeSanctis, a Trenton native, has thought back to boyhood vacations, but when asked, he pauses, then realizes one of his earliest memories is of Atlantic City. (Before it was "A.C.")
"I remember coming to the beach with my parents, brother and sister," he says. "I remember the boardwalk, the salt air, the smell of fried seafood. We went out to eat -- we could've had a similar meal back in Trenton. But the whole ambience was great, what it's like after a day in the sun, and you shower, you're feeling refreshed, hungry. Yeah -- I remember that pretty vividly."
What Revel offers is decidedly more upscale, but still reliant on sun, salt air, good food.
"I think that's an experience a lot of people come here for," he says.
Being unpredictable may help, too.
"Revel . . . it's magical," Pageau says.
DeSanctis, ever the businessman, is more pragmatic.
"We're trying something different. Maybe we're right, maybe we're wrong. If we're wrong, we'll just fix it."
FOR MORE INFO
Revel, 500 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, N.J. For info or reservations, call 855-348-0500 or visit revelresorts.com.