June 28 is going to be a very big day in Hard Rock Atlantic City history.

Besides marking its one-year anniversary, the property is keeping up with the other Atlantic City casinos.

The big fireworks celebration is slated for June 27 at 9:30 p.m. And just like last summer, Hard Rock and Ocean Casino Resort will be celebrating together.

Both properties will announce additional special events soon.

But unlike Ocean, Hard Rock (located on the site formerly known as the Trump Taj Mahal) opened its doors with international brand recognition. Factor in 365 days of entertainment, and there is no doubt the property has drawing power.

But behind all of the rock ‘n’ roll glitz and glamour, including Elvis’ Rolls Royce, how is the property performing?

For the answers on this topic and others, we sat down with property president Joe Lupo.

In a nutshell, Lupo said, “we are really happy with the results.”

Highlights include being No. 2 in terms of table game drop and No. 4 in the overall casino revenue.

“And we are on the heels of some of our competitors who have been in the market for 20 years and have databases 10 times the size of ours,” said Lupo.

“Again, I think that speaks to the brand. We have taken a very aggressive approach. I think we have to to ensure we build a database. And thus far we are very happy.”

Hard Rock AC and the summer ahead

Typically, the weeks between Fourth of July and Labor Day are considered Atlantic City’s prime season.

Last summer, on the other hand, opening the property took priority for Hard Rock.

This time around, Lupo said, it’s going to be “a completely different summer for us.”

“We’ve been able to refine our processes. We are obviously prepared for the summer versus prepared for opening. Two different things.

“With our team in a little bit different place, I think it’s going to be a great summer. We have a big promotion that we are going to unveil in about a month. We have a great lineup we’ve been able to work on for a longer period of time to get ready.”

This includes the Hard Rock Beach Bar, which is currently open Fridays through Sundays.

Sports wagering and NJ online casino gambling can even be done from one of those comfy beach chairs via the Hard Rock online casino and sports app (Wi-Fi signal may be a little tricky).

Speaking of online, partner Unibet launches

Make that Unibet Casino, too.

The app officially launched on Tuesday and provides Kindred entry into the NJ market. Unibet is the company’s flagship brand and the latest NJ online casino app (now 20-plus in total). Customers will have access to a shared wallet once the sportsbook launches later this summer.

The app includes slots and table games (minus the live dealer) such as blackjack and roulette.

Manuel Stan, senior vice president Kindred US, elaborated on the launch via a press release.

“We are thrilled to announce that Kindred can now offer New Jersey customers a truly great gambling experience on a top technology platform in a sustainable, safe and secure environment.

“We have been preparing for this first and important step very thoroughly for a long time and we are excited to take another step into what will most likely become the largest betting market in the world.”

The line on NJ sports betting to date

The opening of HRAC just happened to coincide with the NJ sports betting launch. The first legal wager in Atlantic City was placed at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa on June 14.

Hard Rock (aka the former Trump Taj Mahal) opened two weeks later.

But there was one thing missing from the festivities: sports betting, both retail and mobile. Hard Rock did kickoff just in time for Super Bowl betting, but bigger, expanded plans are coming soon.

hard rock sportsbook atlantic city

Lupo and the Hard Rock team are taking a more patient approach. It’s all about the timing.

“I think it got up so quickly that there wasn’t the proper time to market. This fall will kind of be our opening. This fall will be a different animal.

“We are taking a lot more time to create, and we are working on football right now. It’s all about football. Three hundred days a year, the Sportsbooks are empty. That’s why we didn’t build a big one.”

He is referring to the 3,800-square-foot space that opened in early April with limited seating (50 seats). From a mobile perspective, the property is one of only two Atlantic City casinos about to have all three of its online skins slots filled.

Bet365 NJ is expected to launch by the fall, joining Unibet (July) and the Hard Rock-branded app from Gaming Innovation Group. 

Resorts (DraftKings Sportsbook, BetStars NJ and Resorts) currently has all three skins live.

365 days of live entertainment in AC

Before Hard Rock even opened its doors, entertainment, more specifically 365 days of live entertainment was a big part of the marketing rollout and brand recognition. Plus, there are multiple venues in which guests can enjoy a concert or comedy show:

  • Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena 
  • Sound Waves 
  • Howie Mandel’s Comedy Club

Jersey Boys residency, Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind & Fire and Tobey Keith are booked for the summer.

The Etess Arena is the largest venue at an AC casino property.

Lupo elaborated on what it means for Hard Rock’s business.

“… When that show lets out and prior we do a lot of great food and beverage business, and casino business after the show. It’s just a big amount of people.”

And Jersey Boys is set for a four-week run with the potential to draw another 1,200 people per show.

“So we could theoretically have 7,000 people coming to the property for entertainment.”

At the same time, the year-round entertainment model provides a foundation for a strong customer database.

“We are a new property without a database here in Atlantic City,” Lupo said. “Being able to cultivate that many people in the building, introduce them to the property, get them into the database [and note] whether they like to game, food, entertainment or spa.”

And based on that info, Hard Rock can offer promotions geared toward customers.

The view from outside the Hard Rock casino

Here’s the bigger question: Is the Hard Rock entertainment-centric model working in a seasonal Jersey Shore town?

Several of the current AC casino showrooms are dark on many nights, especially during the off-season. At the same time, they are not the Hard Rock brand.

Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levinson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism, said visitors to AC aren’t just looking for gambling.

“Visitors traveling to Atlantic City are coming for an experience beyond what they can have through an online casino or mobile sportsbook.

“Hard Rock, in providing 365 days of live music and an entertainment centered approach to the consumer experience, is giving visitors a reason to leave their homes and experience the city.”

But more importantly, other than a hurricane or snowstorm that may scare customers from coming, these offerings are not weather dependent.

“As other businesses in the city develop products insulated from the weather we should expect to see Atlantic City’s season extend beyond the traditional summer and continue to grow the shoulder season and year-round visitation.”

Atlantic City and the right number of casinos

Atlantic City is now a nine-casino town. It marks a slight increase from the previous seven but is still lower than the previous high of 12. 

The nearby Showboat is a hotel only, but the idea of adding casino gambling is at least being considered behind the scenes.

But what is the right number of casinos for Atlantic City? This depends on who you ask.

Lupo said he is not sure what the right number is. He notes that the other seven properties that were open last year are down in revenue.

“When you look at just slot and table revenue, it’s a different story than online where it’s all growth and been very positive. But it’s not making up the difference because a lot of that money is going to a third-party provider,” Lupo said.

David Schwartz, head of the Center for Gaming Research at University of Nevada Las Vegas, says it depends on the market’s strengths.

“I think the right number of casinos for Atlantic City is what the market can support. People thought Las Vegas was overbuilt in 1955; adding more casinos led to more growth.

“A huge investment in new casinos in the 1990s led to incredible growth. Yet the market is not infinite, so there has to be a limit.”

But Hard Rock AC is confident

Hard Rock casino will have several big announcements to share with customers in the weeks and months ahead.

The focus is, of course, building on the strong growth from year one.

Looking at the total gaming revenue numbers for April, provided by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, the newcomer on the Boardwalk is doing just fine.

Here are the top performers from the most recent revenue report:

  • Borgata: $58,857,986
  • Golden Nugget: $29,343,761
  • Tropicana: $27,785,827
  • Harrah’s: $27,254,134
  • Hard Rock: $25,050,289

Three of the properties experienced year-over-year percentage drops, and the market-leading Borgata was only up 2%.

Pandit said the infusion of two new properties “has created significant cross-pollination within the market” — or customers wanting to experience the new properties.

“This has resulted in revenue fluctuations for the existing properties, and they in turn are aggressively marketing their amenities and properties to attract the consumer in a highly competitive marketplace.

“In the long-term enhanced service levels, amenities and property upgrades will make future growth and success possible.”

 

Bill Gelman

About

Bill Gelman is a veteran sports writer based just outside of Philadelphia and not too far from the Jersey Shore. Bill spends time in Atlantic City writing about casino openings and expansions, special events and world championship boxing at Boardwalk Hall. He is now adding NJ sports betting and online gambling to the mix.