Teary owner of new Ocean Resort said he invested in former Revel without ever visiting Atlantic City

Ocean Resort Casino Licensing
Bruce Deifik, owner of the Ocean Resort Casino, testifies before the New Jersey Casino Control Commission on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, seeking a casino license for the former Revel casino, which plans to open on June 28.

ATLANTIC CITY — Bruce Deifik, who freed the failed $2 billion Revel casino from the eccentric grip of Glenn Straub, said Wednesday that he made his initial, refundable $10 million investment into the place without ever having visited Atlantic City.

And after buying the property for $200 million, investing $35 million in renovations, and putting up $70 million of his own equity, Deifik said, he spent the last 13 months living out of the Tropicana, paying $40 a night and walking the Boardwalk at 3 a.m.

An emotional Deifik testified before the New Jersey Casino Control Commission eight days before his property is set to open as the Ocean Resort Casino, on the same day that the Hard Rock Atlantic City smashes its guitars and opens in the former Trump Taj Mahal. “We rolled all of our dice,” said Deifik.

“It’s been much harder,” the 63-year-old real estate magnate said, his voice trailing off, when asked how his family was feeling about the venture. “It’s taken a lot to get here.”

The hearing will determine if the casino gets the required license in time to open June 28.

Among the challenges Deifik noted:

• Bruce Springsteen wanted $5 million to play a beach concert; the casino had been willing to make a $1 million donation to the charity of the Boss’ choice. The casino has consistently been outbid by other casinos for top performers, he said.

• Until the minute the deal closed — with his $10 million on the line —Straub, a Florida businessman, was denying to reporters that he even knew Deifik. Meanwhile, Deifik was paying $2 million a month to keep up the property, plus an additional $790,000 a month to Straub for “loss of use.” He said he has a claim against Straub for not using any of that $2 million to pay taxes to the city.

“I finally had to say to him, ‘Glenn, you’re telling everyone there’s no buyer. I’m that guy, and we’re closing tomorrow.” Straub maintains an interest in the property in the form of a three-year share of parking revenue, Deifik testified. “It’s not a favorite subject of mine,” he said.

• He’s still sorting out lawsuits from a failed venture with the World Series of Fighting, which exposed him to some “bad actors,” he said, for the first time in his career.

• The building has been redesigned to address complaints from customers of the former Revel. It has a better entrance from the Boardwalk, the casino layout has been opened up, and Deifik vowed to have ambassadors who will show people around. “We’ve taken the prison wall down,” Deifik said, referring to the perimeter wall that ran along the Boardwalk. That will now be steps leading to the entrance.

• Asked about the wisdom of opening on the same day as a unit of the well-known Hard Rock, Deifik said his company had  June 28 in mind all along. It’s counting on “curiosity” to bring people to the property, and will offer free parking all summer. It also is hoping to draw from an affiliation with the Hyatt hotels. Deifik owns two small casinos in Nevada and hopes to set up arrangements with some Las Vegas casinos, he said.

• The casino will have a spacious sportsbook area with huge screens in the middle of the casino floor, an investment Deifik said he committed to before sports betting was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court and began in New Jersey this month. He’s also looking at e-sports and boxing matches, and the Ocean Resort will have a salon, a noodle bar, new carpeting, and a restaurant known as Cereal Town.

• Deifik said he spent the last year negotiating deals to buy out the restaurants and nightclubs that had leases, and set up more favorable deals with all but one, he said. Those restaurants did well, he said, but their profit did nothing for Revel’s bottom line.

Without the financial structure and debt that sank Revel, Deifik said, he’s a believer in the city and the rebirth of the casino, and said  the property would “surprise the world.” He said he is planning to build out Floors 28 through 37, which are empty, in the first year to increase the room inventory by about 600 to nearly 2,000.

Also testifying was Ocean Resort’s chief financial officer, Alan Greenstein, who served in the same capacity at Revel.

Update: The hearing continued into Thursday morning, after which the Commission voted 3-0 to grant the casino license to Ocean Resort, albeit with 26 conditions recommended by the Division of Gaming Enforcement, 24 of them financial, according to Daniel Heneghan, spokesman for the Commission.