ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Michael Garrity recalls sitting on a pile of dirt at the end of the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 2006 with Kevin DeSanctis, a former New Jersey state trooper and casino executive. Morgan Stanley, Garrity's Wall Street investment firm, had just lined up land for what would become Revel, a new casino resort.
The economy was humming along and Atlantic City's casino revenues were at their height. Yet sitting on that dirt pile, DeSanctis was already thinking several years ahead.
"He said, 'The last thing Atlantic City needs right now is a new casino,'" recalled Garrity, who is now Revel's chief investment officer.
So they set out to build something that was not just a casino but a true destination resort, a glittering glass-encased vacation and meeting mecca that just happened to offer casino gambling.
Monday morning, when the sun comes up, Revel will have arrived. A sunrise champagne toast will officially open the facility. Six years and $2.4 billion after the two men sat atop that dirt pile, it becomes Atlantic City's 12th casino — one that is being counted on to help revive the sagging fortunes of the nation's second-largest gambling market.
"The real issue is: Can you maintain the interest and the excitement?" DeSanctis said. "If we can do that, then I'm not worried. This is going to be a great resort."
That was certainly the verdict from Margy Woolsey, an Atlantic City resident who was among 5,000 invitation-only guests last week for the first of three trial-run gambling nights at Revel, to see how equipment, systems and personnel would work under real-world pressures.
"It's got that wow factor," she said between a string of winning hands of electronic blackjack. "I usually play at Harrah's, but this is my place now."
Revel is Atlantic City's only non-smoking casino resort, and the only one to fully embrace the ocean, with floor-to-ceiling views of the coast that are considered a no-no in other gambling halls. It was designed to appear as if its foundation had been gently sculpted by waves, and a newly replenished beach is a key attraction.
Gambling is only part of the $2.4 billion resort; it also has a luxurious spa, 14 restaurants, 10 pools and a theater with 5,050 seats that will host Beyoncé on Memorial Day weekend.
It has 2,450 slot machines and 160 table games. Its hotel, when fully open later this year, will have 1,898 rooms. Revel will employ about 5,500 full and part-time employees.
Located at the extreme northern end of the Boardwalk, next to the Showboat Casino Hotel, Revel is the first Atlantic City casino to open since its main rival, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, debuted in 2003. With its angular slanted roof and its giant white light-up ball atop the 47-story structure — the second-tallest in New Jersey at 710 feet — Revel is already an iconic presence here.
Revel had to overcome numerous obstacles in order to reach Monday's opening. Three key executives working on the project died in a Minnesota plane crash in July 2008; a worker pouring concrete was struck by lightning and killed last September.
The project ran out of money during the recession and had to stop construction halfway through. Morgan Stanley pulled out, taking a $1.2 billion loss on the project. It only got completed with the help of state tax incentives that were approved in February 2011. That came amid bitter opposition from the city's main casino union, which is livid that Revel has not signed a contract with its hotel and service industry workers, and filed several lawsuits seeking to thwart government assistance to the project.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC.