The Soundtrack of a Dying Casino

The Revel in its final days
The Revel in its final days
Chaz Kangas

It's been a rough few years for Atlantic City casinos. Between the legalization of gambling and rise of casino destinations in surrounding markets, as well as the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy, the city that was once the East Coast icon for bright lights and big spending is a little less illuminated. Atlantic City boasted 14 casinos in 2012, but Deutsche Bank analysts predict that by 2017, that number will be down to six. With five casinos expected to close this year alone, about one-fifth of the city will be out of a job.

Among those closing was the Revel. At 57 stories, it was by far the biggest entity on the Boardwalk, and since its 2012 opening has always looked stylish, standing out from the surrounding hotels and casinos whose appearances haven't changed all that much in the decades gone by. The Revel was also a profoundly expensive endeavor, costing $2.4 billion (essentially one and a half times the cost of MetLife Stadium). Since it closed operations on September 2 at 6 a.m., I decided to spend my Labor Day weekend with some friends paying the casino one last visit.

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A memorial left in front of the Atlantic City House of Blues after its doors were closed for good
A memorial left in front of the Atlantic City House of Blues after its doors were closed for good
Chaz Kangas

It was bittersweet returning to Atlantic City. On the way there I recalled my fond memory of visiting the Revel to cover the 2012 Summerland Tour that featured Sugar Ray, Everclear, Gin Blossoms, Lit, and Marcy Playground. I spent the night in the hotel, and everything from the room to the drinks to the pool was clean, crisp, and outstanding, a far cry from the Atlantic City-hotel caricature you hear joked about. That was still during its pre-Sandy first year, so I was bracing myself for things potentially being in much more dire straits this go-round.

We parked in Caesar's Palace, a casino not facing the same overt troubles as the Revel, but an Atlantic City casino nonetheless. As we made our way through to the boardwalk, the speakers piped in Lou Reed's "I'm So Free." I'm unclear as to how a Transformer-era Lou Reed album cut made it into the rotation at a family-friendly resort and casino, but that was just the first of the unexpected musical accompaniments to this last glimpse of Atlantic City as we know it.

The Showboat Casino's House of Blues entrance
The Showboat Casino's House of Blues entrance
Chaz Kangas

Walking down the Boardwalk toward the Revel, we tried to enter the Showboat Casino, but as it was closing a few hours later on this particular day, we weren't allowed entry. The Showboat is probably more familiar to those who've visited Atlantic City than you might expect; it was one of the most frequent ports for buses arriving from New York, often giving visitors a complimentary $20 slot voucher to spend at the casino before heading out elsewhere. The Showboat also holds the distinction of being the location of the Atlantic City House of Blues, which also closed its doors following the previous Friday's final performance by The Voice winner Cassadee Pope. With the list of acts who've played the venue ranging from Eminem and Nine Inch Nails to Sammy Hagar and Hootie and the Blowfish, it was surreal to see nobody behind those glass windows as the outdoor speakers played Cheap Trick's "Surrender."

We arrived at the Revel, and for a place that would cease to be in under 36 hours, it seemed pretty business-as-usual. I took my Revel Card with my bonus $5 slot credit to the floor and was pleasantly surprised by overhearing Prince's "Alphabet Street" in the background. Not only was this one of my favorite Prince songs, but it was the album version that included the rap part that was removed from the single edit. If luck were to be on my side today, this was a sign.

While the live music at the Revel had been silenced the previous night as the Hooters played the concert venue's final show, the music selections throughout the casino were fairly baffling. From the games to the burlesque dancers to the restaurants, the playlist was scattershot, ranging from the White Stripes' "You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)" to Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" to Dr. Dre's "What's the Difference."  

The Revel's dancers
The Revel's dancers
Chaz Kangas

But there was still live entertainment as the Revel's in-house seductive dance group performed their regularly scheduled highly choreographed gyrations to a mash-up of the Killers' "Somebody Told Me" and the Clash's "Rock the Casbah." At the pool, a dubstep-fueled Jersey Shore bro-down raged on as the Revel's final Labor Day party saw champagne-spraying and napkin-throwing debauchery.

Taking the giant escalator on our way out, it was surreal to see the now-forever-altered Boardwalk with a giant black space in the middle of the spectacle -- the Showboat and House of Blues had their lights completely out. But before we exited the casino, I found the desire to play one last batch of slots. I chose the astoundingly entertaining Michael Jackson King of Pop machine. As the video screen played "The Way You Make Me Feel" as "Smooth Criminal"-era Jacko touched each slot, revealing my bonuses, I wound up winning big and making my last visit to the Revel result in my coming out $21 ahead.

Revel's Michael Jackson: King of Pop slot machines
Revel's Michael Jackson: King of Pop slot machines
Chaz Kangas

In Revel, Atlantic City lost something special. And not just the heavily advertised Barenaked Ladies concert that will now not happen.

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