How The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Became Atlantic City’s Best Resort


It’s not every day you can stroll through a gleaming casino and catch a rooftop fanfare at the crowd-waving lobby bar, straight through the blackjack tables to find dueling pianos that bring guests at their feet in a bustling cafe, then head to a top-notch concert venue for a performance by legendary talent, all in a bustling resort.

But the arrival of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City four years ago transformed the entertainment game in this historic seaside destination. As legions of eager patrons return to AC casinos post-pandemic, the 17-acre property, which opened in June 2018, is building on its successful brand and galvanizing Atlantic City’s music scene , attracting a slew of big-name acts who probably wouldn’t have considered playing there even five years ago. Past and future Hard Rock headliners this year include more than 25 Grammy-winning artists, including Alicia Keys, Lionel Richie, Rod Stewart and Ringo Starr.

Hard Rock Atlantic City president Joe Lupo has long played a pivotal role in shaping the city’s musical offering. A 35-year veteran of the casino industry, he spent more than three decades at Boyd Gaming, helping launch the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa as VP of Operations when it first debuted nearly two decades ago. . It was there that he realized the role high-profile entertainment could play in attracting new audiences.

“With the opening of Borgata in 2003, our goal was to bring new customers to Atlantic City, which had a longstanding reputation as a gambling city,” says Lupo. “Music – a driver for attracting all kinds of diversity and different segments of the population – was a great way to do that.”

Now running the resort’s proverbial show after joining Hard Rock International in 2016, Lupo, along with Michael Woodside, the property’s vice president of entertainment, is tapping into resources such as rock-solid brand equity from the company, long-standing relationships with partners like Live Nation, and its unassailable industry acumen to both elevate and dominate the city’s music landscape.

“We have many great partnerships in Atlantic City,” says Geoff Gordon, Regional President of Live Nation Northeast. “Joe Lupo has been instrumental in helping us build and nurture these relationships over time and grow the market as a true entertainment destination.”

A crucial asset to the property’s arsenal: the 5,500-seat Hard Rock Live at the Etess Arena, the largest performance venue of any casino in town, which for the past 12 months has hosted KISS, Guns N’ Roses and Andrea Bocelli, among other world-class artists.

“It allowed us to accommodate artists who often play in much larger arenas and stadiums in a more intimate setting, which people find special,” says Lupo.

He cites the example of Bocelli, the Italian operatic tenor who performed on June 25 at the Etess Arena to a delighted audience that spanned the entire demographic spectrum. “I’m sure we had a lot of new customers who walked through our door for the first time that night, and some may have come to Atlantic City for the first time,” he says. “Having one of the biggest artists in the world on our stage makes this client stand out.”

Ultimately, says Lupo, the idea is to increase revenue by giving new customers and returning customers compelling reasons to stay and explore the resort before and after the show. “We try to schedule the whole weekend,” he says. “It’s a real experience: you can dine and go to the spa and the beach, instead of going to a show in Philadelphia and going home afterwards. We can present the property to that new or infrequent client with a great weekend and hopefully encourage them to return.

This strategy also applies to attract younger audiences with artists like The Chainsmokers, who performed at Hard Rock Live last month, and Greta Van Fleet, who will perform there for two nights in December.

“These types of shows may not contribute much to gaming revenue on those nights, but they will grow nights and those fans may want to come back to see another show and dine at one of our restaurants,” he said.

The musical spirit of Hard Rock is evident in the resort’s “365 Live” programming commitment, which means there’s live music every day of the year. During the summer, the casino hosts 25 bands a week, with three stages operating simultaneously on weekends. That translates to more than 10,000 hours of live music per year, according to Adam Zengel, director of entertainment operations, who also curates more than 30 aerial music playlists throughout the property.

“It’s not often that people walk into a casino dancing, as we’ve seen our customers do when they open the doors and hear the music. This energy is a big part of our appeal,” says Lupo.

Unsurprisingly, all of this fun comes at a steep price. Lupo estimates the station’s total entertainment investment this year at around $25 million. “While some of our competitors have really reduced their expenses post-pandemic, we have increased ours to create this exceptional environment, and that has resulted in a lot of visits,” he says.

This strategy of priming the pump pays off. Hard Rock Atlantic City’s first-half 2022 revenue through June jumped 27.8% year over year, the largest gain of the city’s nine gaming properties. Meanwhile, its first-quarter operating profit jumped 213% from last year’s Covid numbers to $26.7 million. And June property revenues — up 26.6% from June 2021 — beat the competition again.

As fall approaches, Lupo is also banking on the ongoing recovery in the convention industry to help generate revenue. With 2,000 rooms and over 150,000 square feet of meeting and event space, the resort is keen to leverage its music-focused DNA to attract corporate clients as well. “Conventions, which happen mid-week, are a real pillar of our foundation here,” he says. “I think we’re stealing a lot of that from other properties that don’t have the same philosophy of keeping that energy going midweek.”

As for the longer-term future, Lupo points to Hard Rock’s burgeoning presence in the United States and globally (its locations currently span 253 locations in 68 countries) as a source of potential synergies. In the United States, the highly anticipated Hard Rock Hotel New York debuted in April, followed by a hotel and casino in Bristol, Virginia last month. Last December, Hard Rock International announced an agreement to buy the Mirage Las Vegas Hotel and Casino for $1.075 billion. The company plans to build a guitar-shaped hotel on the 80-acre site on the Las Vegas Strip, slated to open in 2025. Meanwhile, plans for a sprawling new resort and casino in Athens have been announced in June.

“We always have to be brand conscious and partner with the big bands that talk about Hard Rock and our musical direction,” says Lupo. “You will see these acts bouncing from Hard Rock to Hard Rock. It’s the future evolution of our brand, not just here in the United States, but around the world.


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