September 22, 2020 Casino, Land-Based, Interview

Ocean Casino Resort CEO Special: Terry Glebocki - Déjà vu

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Five years after leaving Revel, Ocean Casino Resort CEO Terry Glebocki talks to Tim Poole about returning to the property in its new form – with aims of a very different outcome this time around.

Although Terry Glebocki spent her “best decade and a half” working for Trump Entertainment, it’s the “little piece of her heart” she left in Atlantic City that has defined her career to date. Since August 2018, Glebocki has been CEO of Ocean Casino Resort, but it’s not the first time she’s worked at the property, spending eight years there in its ill-fated spell as Revel. Having “built the property from the ground up” only to close and sell it, Glebocki had unfinished business on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. So it’s perhaps with a sense of déjà vu she joined Ocean as CFO in February 2019. But, as she tells Gaming America, she has ensured the mistakes of yesteryear will not be repeated at the New Jersey casino hotel. 

Born and raised a “Jersey girl,” Glebocki grew up in Cranford, New Jersey, and has always had an affiliation with her home state. Graduating with a degree in accounting from Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Glebocki’s first step into employment saw her enter the world of public accounting. Working at Touche Ross (now Deloitte and Touche), Glebocki became certified and moved up to a senior accountant role within three years. Yet, living in South Jersey and commuting into Philadelphia, there was one problem. “I loved the job, I loved public accounting and how much I learned in such a short time. But I hated the commute,” she recalls. 

As the biggest employer in South Jersey, the gaming industry beckoned. “It’s funny as I look back because I was very naïve: I thought the hours would be better working for a casino,” she says. “Busy season went from January till May in public accounting. Little did I know the hours in gaming were a 24/7 operation.” Glebocki initially found herself in an internal audit spot but, within nine months, transferred into financial accounting and “never looked back.” 

Initially, hesitance from a colleague, Glebocki’s former employer, made her “nervous about the decision.” The nerves soon passed, however, as the growing excitement of gaming on the East Coast took hold. Having always worked on the Atlantic City Boardwalk since her industry entrance in 1987, the executive started out at what was then Golden Nugget. She joined 17 days after its sale to Bally’s, meaning “everyone was leaving and I was just coming in.” But she explains: “That wound up to be a great opportunity. I was able to have my choice of what made sense and where I wanted to be.” 

Within five years, Glebocki became assistant controller at the property, then named Bally’s Grand. Her next career move, though, took her from the far end of the Boardwalk to the very centre of it: Trump Plaza. While Glebocki says Donald Trump was not “really aware” of her, corresponding mostly with the CEO, she does have one Trump anecdote: “I was in one meeting where he said ‘how’s that new woman doing?’ He meant me and I was actually in the meeting. So I said, ‘That’s me – I think she’s doing pretty good!’” 

We decided we were going to market when we reopened. Others decided to be more conservative because of the unknown. We knew our guests wanted offers so we went out there still with compelling offers.

Glebocki spent 16 years at Trump Plaza, working her way up to SVP of finance. Never did she once think she was working for the future US President, and who could blame her? “Even when I was there for the Apprentice, I didn’t know that would become the sensation it did,” she adds. Still, it was her next role that would end up having the biggest impact on her career – across two spells – as she became Revel Entertainment’s VP of finance in 2007. 

“I had an opportunity to work for a company no one had ever heard of. They were going to build it from the ground up and I thought this is my chance to make my mark,” she says. “It was a scary decision because they didn’t own anything except a giant piece of sand on the Boardwalk. They didn’t have funding and everything was so uncertain. It wound up being quite a ride – I spent eight years at Revel.” 

Glebocki notes that the property was originally open for just two and a half years, despite her eight years with the company. That speaks to the property’s complex and, in its first lifecycle, doomed journey. Following its opening on 2 April 2012, Revel closed on 2 September 2014. “I was employee number five and ultimately ended up being the CFO, going through the sale process and handing the keys to the new owner when I left in 2015.” 

Before she would eventually return to Revel in its new form as Ocean, Glebocki became corporate CFO at Tropicana Entertainment. Though still based in Atlantic City, she oversaw the finances of eight properties in six different states and Aruba. “They were almost like dog years,” she comments. “Where in the past I would close the books for a single property, now I was closing the books for eight properties; it was the best experience ever. We were so successful that it culminated in the merger of Tropicana Entertainment and Eldorado Resorts.” 

Glebocki stayed through the $1.85bn merger in October 2018, confirming the transaction, and was released, which was always part of the plan. By this point, an in-demand Glebocki had registered success as a prominent gaming executive. And yet the phone call she would receive a few months after leaving was not one that initially excited her. It was from Ocean Casino Resort – the reopened, rebranded Revel – offering her the CFO role. 

“I built this property from the ground up and I had to close it, so I wasn’t sure I had it in me to come back,” she confesses. “But when I thought about the financial predicaments it had been in and saw the opportunity going forward, I thought let me give it a shot. If I can’t make it work, nobody’s been able to make it work. And if I can, it would be very fulfilling.” 

With her mind made up, Glebocki became CFO in February 2019, progressing to interim CEO in August 2019 and permanent CEO by December 2019. When Gaming America asks whether she had a sense of unfinished business with Revel and Ocean, she is emphatic: “Oh, absolutely.” Knowing the mistakes of the past, she relished the prospect of leading Ocean to future success. 

She was welcomed with the stark fact that Ocean had lost $38m in its first few months since reopening. Charged with “stopping the bleeding,” she recruited a new team, and the same eight months year-on-year turned a $38m loss into a $21m profit. Two major issues had already been corrected in Ocean’s favor. Before reopening as Ocean, the new owner of Revel bought a power plant that had previously impeded the property's profitability, saving over $2m a month. The huge tax burden on the building – following its $2.4bn building cost – was also lifted, saving Ocean $30m a year. 

Glebocki recalls that Revel had lost $150m in its first 12 months. During its last 12 months, and with her in the CFO role, that loss was reduced to $80m. Now, with around $55m saved from the aforementioned cost reductions, Glebocki was optimistic about Ocean. “This loss was not as huge; the debt load on this property was very manageable because this building sold for pennies on the dollar,” she observes. “So I thought it really is set up for success and I could be the person to help take it into the future.” 

Our conference call marks roughly 12 months since Glebocki took over as Ocean Casino CEO. “What a ride,” she responds when asked to reflect on that opening year. “We started to gain momentum, turning loss into profit. The first month the property made money in its entire history was June 2019. We made money that month and never looked back, continually making improvements. People had confidence in the building, liked the management team, loved the product and loved our offers.” 

So often in my career I’ve been the only woman at the table. But things have changed a lot; I don’t think it’s because of me – there were plenty of women before me. There are a lot of talented women in gaming. They’re not in positions because they’re women; they just happen to be women.

But then disaster struck, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused global devastation and brought the US casino industry to a shuddering halt. Glebocki says: “We had more momentum than anyone – double-digit growth year-over-year. But COVID-19 just threw a huge curveball. It seemed unfair to me: oh my god, I’m CEO, I finally got the big job and now there’s a pandemic and the property has to close.” The situation was reminiscent of Revel’s first closure for the CEO, forced once again to let employees go. 

For 107 days, Ocean remained shut, although Glebocki and her team immediately began planning how to reopen. Senior management was inundated with employee queries on their future, with Ocean’s job made harder being a “standalone asset,” missing the same deep pockets as Atlantic City properties tied to a bigger organization. Maintaining cash and liquidity was fundamental, although Glebocki says her background as a CFO was very helpful in this regard. 

“We used a lot of common sense,” she says. “We decided we were going to market when we reopened. Others decided to be more conservative because of the unknown. We knew our guests wanted offers so we went out there still with compelling offers. Although we have a huge footprint, we don’t have a lot of hotel rooms. We only have 1399 so it was important to us to maximize and fill those hotel rooms – and we did.” 

The planning did not go to waste; out of nine Atlantic City properties, as brick-and-mortar business fell 47% year-on-year overall, only Ocean Casino Resort saw growth in July, its gaming revenue rising 30% to $26.3m. Whether that kind of growth – and a wider Atlantic City recovery – can continue comes down to the restrictions New Jersey properties face, Glebocki states. At press time, properties in the Garden State are not allowed indoor dining – restrictions that are harsher than in other gaming jurisdictions. 

These restrictions have prompted a focus on customer experience from the Ocean team. “You can’t have people staying in your hotel who can’t eat or drink,” Glebocki says. “It’s like having a house guest and saying you’re not going to feed them.” In response, Ocean duly opened up 24/7 room service, the reverse approach of neighbouring properties which didn’t want to carry such costs. 

Two weeks into the property’s reopening, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy allowed outdoor dining venues to open with a fixed roof, providing 50% of walls are open to allow constant airflow. Here, Ocean got creative, turning the fifth floor of its 12-deck parking garage into an outdoor VIP lounge. “We carpeted, put in palm trees, had TVs and live music. When it rains, people can take their takeout there and eat it; rain is a huge issue when you only have outdoor food and beverage.” 

Coordinating the launch of its VIP lounge with the reopening of Borgata, which waited until late July to resume operations, Glebocki wanted to give guests “something to be loyal to.” Lo and behold, the Ocean CEO is now watching “more and more properties offer similar options.” At the time of our interview, Glebocki tells us performance has maintained through August, although she reiterates long-term success is dependent on the ongoing development of indoor dining regulations. 

When it comes to long-term success on a personal level, Glebocki jokes she’s actually “not feeling that special anymore.” While she became the first female CEO of an Atlantic City property, four out of nine properties are now led by women. She tells Gaming America: “So often in my career I’ve been the only woman at the table. But things have changed a lot; I don’t think it’s because of me – there were plenty of women before me. There are a lot of talented women in gaming. They’re not in positions because they’re women; they just happen to be women.” On her own team, for instance, Glebocki praises “some very, very strong women,” including CFO Laura Palazzo and Lori Yeager, SVP of human resources. 

I was in one meeting where Trump said ‘how’s that new woman doing?’ He meant me and I was actually in the meeting. So I said, ‘That’s me – I think she’s doing pretty good!’

Looking ahead, Glebocki aims to see Ocean to profitability – a goal she was previously achieving before the three-and-a-half-month closure – and to cash flow positivity. “We need to fit out the 500 rooms in the middle of our tower that are just shelled out at this point,” she explains. “The tower we have was meant to accommodate 1,898 rooms. Going into the pandemic, we had sketched out those 12 floors, right smack in the middle of our tower. We actually had model rooms being unveiled on the day we were told we needed to shut down. Once we have our full complement of rooms, I think the sky’s the limit for this property.” 

On that skyward journey, Glebocki is taking it “one day at a time,” as she describes a tendency to get “so focused on what  I’m doing I forget to pay attention to other things.” She “works hard and keeps her head down,” constantly looking for ways to make money for the owners and the team. But however the sequel of her Revel/Ocean mission pans out, Glebocki says the best part of her life is her family: two daughters and an “extremely patient and supportive” husband. Those are her proudest achievements.

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