WEEKLY FEATURE: Hard Rock Mystery

Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment received preliminary approval to enter the New Jersey casino market either in Atlantic City or in other markets if casinos are expanded in the state, where Hard Rock owns part of the Meadowlands complex. Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen (l.) did not announce any construction plans, but has said it has been in discussions with the potential new owner of Atlantic City’s closed Revel casino.

Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment—which runs the Hard Rock casino and restaurant brand—received preliminary approval to enter the New Jersey casino market.

The state’s Casino Control Commission issued a statement of compliance to the company, a preliminary step in becoming licensed to own a casino in New Jersey.

While the approval certainly applies to Atlantic City, it would also allow the company to operate a casino in any other part of the state should New Jersey expand casino gaming—something that has been seriously proposed.

Hard Rock owns 16 percent of the Meadowlands Racetrack in northern New Jersey, one of the prime areas advocates have proposed allowing casino construction. Any expansion of casino gaming outside Atlantic City, however, would have to be approved by state voters.

Hard Rock CEO James Allen did not reveal plans for any specific project at the commission hearing, but said the company would be “100 percent” interested if casino gaming expanded to northern New Jersey.

He also said he has had recent talks with Glenn Straub, the Florida developer who is buying Atlantic City’s closed Revel casino for $94 million.

Straub has said he wants to operate a casino at the site, but would bring in outside management to run it. Allen would not say whether Hard Rock is interested in being a co-purchaser of Revel or the operator or manager of a casino there, but disclosed that the company has been looking at the property for some time.

“We’ve certainly been looking at Revel, going back to our inception,” Allen said. “It’s an amazing building, but it does have some challenges.”

He told GGB three years ago that the only casino he’d consider operating in Atlantic City would be Revel.

Last week, Allen told the commission that the company had considered buying Revel and made a bid for the property—he did not disclose the amount—that was not accepted. That bid came before the casino was sold at bankruptcy auction to Straub, he said.

The bid was separate from Brookfield Asset Management—which operates Hard Rock Las Vegas—Allen said. Brookfield actually won the bankruptcy auction with a $110 million bid, but later backed out of the sale.

Seminole Hard Rock—owned by Florida’s Seminole Indian tribe—has shown interest in the Atlantic City market before. Hard Rock had proposed building a small casino in the resort in 2011, but later dropped those plans as the resort’s casino market continued to shrink.

Allen said he now feels that building a casino from scratch in the resort doesn’t make financial sense, but the approval gives the company flexibility in the market.

“If the right opportunity comes along, we can move quickly,” Allen said. “We certainly have been known to take risks in the past. Fundamentally we think the brand Atlantic City itself is an amazing brand that has worldwide recognition and cache.”