MotorCity Comes to Atlantic City

The Ilitch family, owners of the MotorCity Casino Hotel, the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings, has Atlantic City on their radar. The family agreed to buy as much as 50 percent of Ocean Casino Resort (l.).

Detroit’s Ilitch family, of Little Caesars pizza fame, has its hands in a number of pies. It owns two major-league sports teams, the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball fame and the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL.

Family matriarch Marian Ilitch became the sole owner of MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit in 2005. Her late husband, Mike, was prohibited from involvement because MLB rules at the time barred owners from having any interest in gambling companies, according to the Detroit Free Press.

In total, the family’s companies employ more than 24,000 full-time and part-time people around the world; in 2018, the organization’s total combined revenue was $3.8 billion.

Now it’s set its sights set on Atlantic City.

Luxor Capital Group LP, a New York hedge fund, said April 6 it has agreed to sell Ilitch as much as 50 percent of Ocean Casino Resort, the Boardwalk property formerly known as Revel. The firm is seeking interim approval to become a part owner from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

The price Ilitch will pay was not disclosed.

“We are extremely excited about the proposed investment by the Ilitch organization, which, if approved, will give Ocean access to growth capital and provide a strategic partner to Luxor,” Luxor said in a statement.

Luxor took over operations of Ocean Casino in January 2019 in exchange for cancelling former owner Bruce Deifik’s debt. The hedge fund did not discuss details of the agreement with Ilitch or how the deal may affect operations, and is expected to remain mum until the approval process moves further along, according to the Associated Press.

Among Atlantic City casinos, the 47-story Ocean has an especially turbulent history. Planned as Revel before the 2008 Great Recession, it was downsized from two towers to one after the economy tanked, but construction went forward at a cost of $2.4 billion. The property on 20 oceanfront acres opened in April 2012, but declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy twice before closing again in 2014.

Shortly thereafter, Revel was sold to Florida developer Glenn Straub for just $82 million. The colorful Straub had a contentious relationship with local government officials, according to the Press of Atlantic City; he once warned business owners coming to New Jersey “to take all your clothes off” because “they don’t know how to not rape you.”

Straub floated a number of plans to repurpose the casino, which he renamed TEN. Those ideas included turning it into a technical school and using it as a center to house Syrian refugees. He never reopened it, and in 2018 sold it to developer Bruce Deifik, who plowed $70 million of his own money into the property, then reopened it as Ocean Resort Casino in June 2018.

Deifik’s tenure in the city was short-lived. A year later, facing sexual harassment allegations by casino employees and about to be stripped of his gaming license, Deifik lost his stake in the property, and Luxor took control. Months later, Deifik died in a car accident in Colorado. His death and Straub’s fate—the latter faces 15 years in prison in Florida on charges of grand theft larceny—led to speculation about a “Revel curse.”

Ocean Casino has put that talk to rest. For the first nine months of 2020, it had a gross operating profit of more than $12 million, a big improvement over a $2.5 million loss in the same period a year earlier. During that challenging period, Ocean was the only casino in Atlantic City that did not report a decline.

The Ilitch organization told Casino Beats that it “recognizes the success that the team at Ocean has achieved over the past two years,” and adds that it “looks forward to working with the Ocean team and building on their accomplishments through continued investment in both the property and the customer experience.”

The modernistic, mirror-clad resort features 1,399 guest rooms and suites, 138,000 square feet of casino space with 1,937 slot machines and 125 gaming tables, and a William Hill sportsbook.

In related news, the Tigers and Red Wings signed a deal April 5 with MotorCity Casino’s FanDuel sportsbook as an official gaming partner.

“After a very successful launch in Michigan, we are excited to continue our momentum by partnering in this way with two of the most iconic sports organizations in the country,” said Mike Raffensperger, CMO of FanDuel Group in a statement.

Last week the Tigers also entered into a promotional agreement with BetMGM.

FanDuel sportsbook will be included in signage at Comerica Park and Little Caesars Arena, including outfield walls and dasher boards. FanDuel content also will be used on the teams’ radio networks.

Both venues already partnered with the casino. Comerica Park features the MotorCity Casino Tiger Club, which includes the Off Ramp Bar. Little Caesars Arena includes the MotorCity Casino Club, which hosts VIP experiences with gourmet food and beverage options.