In March 2017, Hard Rock International let the world know it had bought the recently-closed Trump Taj Mahal. It also announced it was making plans to reopen it as Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City on Memorial Day weekend 2018.

But that wasn’t exactly the beginning of Hard Rock in Atlantic City. The story of Hard Rock AC and the pieces that finally came together is a long one but the end result has Atlantic City (and New Jersey) talking.

In fact, Hard Rock originally made plans to build a $460 million boutique hotel and casino on the Boardwalk in 2010.

NJ legislators even went as far as approving smaller boutique casino legislation at that time. This authorized hotel projects with less than 500 rooms to move forward. That paved the way for the original Hard Rock project.

Hard Rock changes its mind

By November 2011, Hard Rock International President and CEO Jim Allen said construction on the new Hard Rock Atlantic City project will begin in July 2012. He also said it would open in the spring of 2014.

Less than a year later, with the economy in Atlantic City in the tank, Hard Rock skipped paying a $1 million casino license application fee. Without saying much, it simply dropped the project altogether.

Hard Rock started making plans for other parts of the Garden State in the spring of 2013. It invested in Northern New Jersey’s Meadowlands Racetrack. The move was a bet on the idea the state would soon authorize casino operations outside of Atlantic City.

In June 2015, Hard Rock revealed its plans to build a $1 billion, 650,000-square-foot casino adjacent to the Meadowlands Racetrack, pending state approval.

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New Jersey says no

However, New Jersey voters said no to expanding casino gaming outside AC in a November 2016 referendum, killing Hard Rock’s Meadowlands casino plan.

In the interim, Trump Taj Mahal had been mired in a bitter labor dispute. Owner Carl Icahn eventually shut it down.

Trump Taj Mahal was built at a cost of $1.2 billion. It opened in 1990 and was fraught with financial issues throughout its existence.

Hard Rock gets a bargain

Icahn closed the doors on Oct. 10, 2016, claiming he’d lost $350 million as owner. Less than six months later, Hard Rock was able to buy Trump Taj Mahal for just $50 million.

Of course, the company immediately said it was planning to spend $300 million renovating, re-branding, and reopening the property as the Hard Rock Atlantic City.

The cost of the work has since ballooned to more than $500 million, and the opening date pushed to summer 2018. However, over the past year, the work to finally bring Hard Rock to Atlantic City has moved forward at a steady pace. In fact, there appears to be no turning back now.

About a month after buying the property, Hard Rock laid out its detailed plan for the new Hard Rock Atlantic City.

It includes a casino with 2,400 slots and 130 table games. Plus, first-class food and beverage concepts around the property. There will be two separate arenas with more than 7,000 seats hosting live music, sporting events, conferences, and shows.

The plan also includes a complete renovation and redesign of every hotel room on the property. Plus, they will be adorning the walls throughout with pieces from Hard Rock’s extensive music memorabilia collection, the world’s largest.

In July 2017, things got even more real when Hard Rock International and National Content Liquidators hosted a liquidation sale. It was a clear indication Hard Rock was moving in.

In fact, the company sold off anything and everything that would remind anyone the property was once the Trump Taj Mahal.

Hard Rock Atlantic City targets summer 2018

Hard Rock AC unveiled a billboard in November 2017 saying it is now targeting summer 2018 for an opening. From then on, things started to move quickly for the property.

A month later, further details about the hotel and casino were revealed when Hard Rock Atlantic City filed plans with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) to open a Rockstop Gas & Wash gas station and convenience store just outside the property. Plans for a beach bar would soon follow.

In January of this year, the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement confirmed Hard Rock had applied for an NJ online gambling license. A month later, officials also said they were working with the company to get its casino license approved.

On Feb. 23, Hard Rock submitted plans for its signage to the CRDA. It includes a massive Les Paul Gibson guitar with the Hard Rock name written on the body. With hiring in full swing, the sign is an indication the work is almost done.

All that’s required now is the necessary government approval, licensing, and to set a date for Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City’s grand opening — a date close to a decade in the making.

Martin Derbyshire

About

In his over 10 years covering the US online poker, legal NJ online gambling, and land-based casino industries, Martin Derbyshire has worn the hats of award-winning journalist and video and film producer. He has logged countless miles reporting on the world of high stakes gambling.