The paint is barely dry at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and the former Trump Taj Mahal is going through a leadership change.

Out is president Matt Harkness, a 15-year veteran of Trump Resorts in Atlantic City. Harkness took the job in July 2017 and ushered the property through its $500 million renovations and June 28 opening.

In is Joe Lupo, the current president at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa. Lupo is also the former senior vice president of operations of Atlantic City’s top-grossing Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. He will take over the role on Nov. 1.

Hard Rock International COO Jon Lucas gave no reason for the move. However, he thanked Harkness for his efforts in a statement:

“I would like to thank Matt for his contribution to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and appreciate his efforts leading the successful opening of this exceptional property.”

First three months at Hard Rock AC

Harkness, for his part, established himself as an experienced leader with more than 30 years of managerial experience in the industry. For 15 of those years, Harkness worked in AC at the former Taj Mahal.

During his time at Hard Rock AC, Harkness helped oversee its transformation from an outdated casino to an entertainment behemoth on the Boardwalk.

A couple of days after its opening, the Hard Rock online casino launched, putting the brand squarely in the middle of a crowded NJ online gambling pack.

In its first three months, Hard Rock posted competitive gaming revenue numbers. Hard Rock brought in $32,386,465 in total gaming win in July. That put it third of nine Atlantic City casinos in its first full month of operations, behind only Borgata and Tropicana.

By the time September rolled around, Hard Rock still ranked among the top four casinos in the city, an impressive feat for a new property.

Harkness had ties to Atlantic City

During his tenure as Hard Rock AC president, Harkness earned accolades for his ties to New Jersey and Atlantic City. Like the casino itself, Harkness wanted to help the city regain its former glory:

“I believe in the renaissance of Atlantic City, and I am confident Hard Rock will set a new standard in this city and our region,” Harkness said in an interview in Light’s On before the casino opened. “Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will draw an enormous amount of interest to Atlantic City. It will truly be unlike anything else this town has ever experienced.”

Now, according to the Associated Press, Harkness will be replaced at the end of October and reassigned within the company.

Enter Joe Lupo and a new era

But Lupo is no stranger to Atlantic City either.

Prior to taking over in Tampa, Lupo worked at Borgata Atlantic City for 13 years. There, Lupo served as senior vice president of operations, overseeing gambling, marketing, and entertainment.

His tenure was highlighted by Borgata’s rise to the top of the AC casino market. It has retained that spot for most of its 15-year existence.

Lupo left for Florida in November 2016, and it was only a matter of time before Hard Rock called him back up to Atlantic City.

As Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen said:

“Joe has been a talented and proven leader at our Tampa property and previously at Borgata, creating significant property success in both markets.”

Hard Rock AC wants to be the leader of the pack

Allen has his sights set on leading the market. He said the company is bringing on Lupo to help do just that:

“Joe has been a talented and proven leader at our Tampa property and previously at Borgata, creating significant property success in both markets. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will strive to be a leader in this market with a superior product, exceptional customer experience and the most talented rock stars in the industry.”

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City sits on 17 acres of real estate fronting the AC Boardwalk. The casino boasts 2,200 slots and 120 table games.

Additionally, there are more than 20 restaurants and lounges on the property. Entertainment venues include Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena, Sound Waves, and Howie Mandel’s Comedy Club.

With all those amenities and a well-known brand, Hard Rock has pushed the boundaries of what a casino in Atlantic City can do. For now, though, there’s a new leader incoming at Hard Rock and a chance to make an even bigger impression in the AC market.

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.