ATLANTIC CITY - Roseann Wilkins of Upstate New York took a deep breath on the gambling floor of the new Revel casino and liked what she didn't smell: cigarettes.
"It just smells so good in here," said Wilkins, 64, seated next to friend Larry Teeter, 55, from Chemung, N.Y., as they played penny slots in Atlantic City's flashiest new resort since the Borgata opened nearly nine years ago. "The decor is really state-of-the-art.
"So far, it hasn't given me any money," she said, "but I like it."
Wilkins, of Elmira, was among the throng that packed Revel on Monday for its "soft" opening. The preview period continues through May 24, a day before Revel's grand opening on Memorial Day weekend. The holiday will include three concerts by Beyoncé at the 5,050-seat Ovation Hall, one of Revel's two theaters. The casino's other venue, the Social, seats 700.
"We're treating the opening of Revel as a Broadway play with an eight-week preview," said Kevin DeSanctis, Revel's chief executive officer.
DeSanctis has shepherded the project for more than five years, through tragedy (key executives died in a plane crash in summer 2008) and financial difficulties. Some wondered if it would ever be completed. Asked if he felt relieved, DeSanctis smiled.
"Yeah, it feels good to be open," he said as he stood at the entrance facing the beach and greeted patrons. Under the afternoon sun, the casino's all-glass facade glistened.
There were about 200 people waiting when Revel's 130,000-square-foot gaming floor opened at 7 a.m.
At the head of the line was Jerry Colonna, 28, of Mount Laurel, who works for a waste management company. He arrived at 5 a.m. with friends Mike Demcovitz, 28, and Keith Groff, 33, both of Atlantic City, and Ryan Lichtner, 24, of Center City Philadelphia.
"I didn't want to be second," Colonna said.
Once inside, he got behind a $10-minimum roulette table and removed a wad of bills from his wallet. Within 15 minutes, he was up $1,500 after wagering $400 in chips.
"This place will turn Atlantic City around," Colonna said as he scoped out the floor, with its 160 table games and 2,450 slot machines. "Look at it - it's beautiful. It's a 'wow.' On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 12."
Revel is the first newly constructed casino to open here since the Borgata debuted in July 2003. At 47 stories, it is New Jersey's second-tallest building. It is also the city's first nonunion gaming hall and the first entirely nonsmoking one since gambling was legalized here in 1976. The other 11 casinos in town are 25 percent smoke-free, according to the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.
Located on the northern end of the Boardwalk, next to the Showboat, Revel has 20 acres of beachfront and is modeled after the Borgata as a lavish, Las Vegas-style mega-casino.
Most of Revel's 1,898 rooms and suites - all with ocean views - will be phased in over eight weeks. Three of the complex's 14 restaurants also opened Monday: Lugo, Distrito Cantina, and Mussel Bar.
Mike and Dottie Scicchitano of Englewood, who also attended Borgata's opening, sat at the bar at Distrito Cantina, run by Philadelphia celebrity chef Jose Garces, at lunchtime. He ordered tamales and tequila, while she ordered a chicken taco with a margarita at the taco "truck," which is permanently parked in the casino.
"It really looks like Vegas," said Mike Scicchitano, who said he booked four rooms at Revel Tower for the couple and their friends to stay the night.
Also opened Monday was the 31,000-square foot spa and one of 10 pools. The 55,000-square-foot galleria, featuring retail "living rooms," will debut next month.
The curtain will rise at one of Revel's two nightclubs, the Royal Jelly Burlesque, on Thursday. The other nightclub and a "day club" will open in June.
Revel has been heralded by many as the spark that this town desperately needs. It enters the market at a tumultuous time, as gaming revenues here have tumbled in 42 of the last 43 months. Atlantic City's casinos have lost $1.6 billion since 2006 to "convenience" casinos in Pennsylvania and New York. March casino revenues come out next week.
CEO DeSanctis said he wants Revel to go after group and leisure customers, the traditional overnight gaming customers, and day visitors with revenue coming from gaming, entertainment, food and beverage, and the 160,000 square feet of meeting space.
"As far as the guest experience and guest expectation, I think it will really take a year before we find out how this facility operates," he said.
David and Norma Robles of Westchester, N.Y., followed the giant globe on top of Revel Tower, which glows blue at night, to guide them to the casino on their first trip to Atlantic City.
"It's definitely luxurious," said David Robles, 51, as the couple took in the ocean view from the mezzanine deck. "I think we will come back, maybe at the end of August."
DeSanctis marked the start of the preview with a 6:30 sunrise toast, where he was joined by his wife, Donna; 125 uniformed staff members; and Kim Guadagno, who is serving as acting governor this week during Gov. Christie's trip to Israel.
Guadagno noted the number of jobs Revel created (5,500, with 800 going to Atlantic City residents), and her boss' role in helping to get Revel finished. In February 2011, Christie announced $261 million in state tax credits to go toward Revel's completion.
"The sun is starting to rise. . . . The best days of Atlantic City are before us, not behind us. It's truly a new dawn," she said, sharing the stage with DeSanctis in the resort's two-acre SkyGarden, the Atlantic Ocean in the background.
With that, Guadagno raised her blueberry smoothie - which she opted for instead of champagne, she said, to honor Hammonton, the state's blueberry capital - and proclaimed: "Game on!"
Contact Suzette Parmley at 856-779-3844 or firstname.lastname@example.org.