Newly filed documents with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement suggest that Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment has renewed interest in the Atlantic City casino market, although exactly what the company's intentions are remain unclear.
For months, rumors have swirled that Hard Rock is among the parties interested in purchasing Revel Casino Hotel. Local politicians have confirmed that interest, but to date neither Hard Rock nor Revel has spoken publicly about any negotiations.
Documents released Monday, however, confirm that Hard Rock asked state regulators whether the Seminole Indian Tribe would have to qualify for a casino license if Hard Rock were to pursue building or buying an Atlantic City casino. The Hard Rock International brand is owned by the Fla.-based tribe. The company has 140 restaurants, 18 hotels and eight casinos across 57 countries.
According to the ruling issued by the state Feb. 6, the tribe was waived from qualifying for a license, although several Hard Rock executives would have to qualify. Among them: Hard Rock's chairman, CEO and president, James Allen, and Brad Buchanan, executive vice president, CFO and secretary. Eight other individuals are listed. Allen is a former Atlantic City casino executive.
Messages left Monday for Hard Rock representatives regarding the company's interest in Atlantic City were not returned. Lisa Johnson, a spokeswoman for Revel, did not respond to requests for comment.
Kerry Langan, a spokeswoman for the Division of Gaming Enforcement, said the company applied for something known as a statement of compliance under the Casino Control Act. The process allows an entity and the persons associated with the entity to be investigated before any casino purchase. Based on the investigation, the entity and person can be found to meet certain licensure qualification criteria, she said.
"As an initial step, Hard Rock sought rulings as to the entities and individuals necessary for it to obtain a statement of compliance. An order which addresses the requests has been entered," Langan said.
This is not the first time Hard Rock has shown interest in Atlantic City. The company previously had a plan to construct a small "boutique-style" casino under legislation allowing casinos with fewer than 500 hotel rooms.
In 2012, however, Hard Rock said the market conditions caused the company to change its mind.
Hard Rock has other interests in New Jersey. Last year, the company bought a stake in the Meadowlands Racetrack and announced that the sale would position it well for "projected future development at the racetrack," leading to speculation that the company may be positioning itself should casino expansion ever be approved.
Hard Rock is not the only company with possible interest in purchasing Revel, whose management said last year that the casino was pursuing a sale or another bankruptcy. The $2.4 billion casino emerged from bankruptcy after a year in operation. Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns four Atlantic City casinos, has shown interest in the property, according to lawmakers.
State Sen. Jim Whelan has spoken out against that possibility, saying if Caesars were to purchase Revel it would exert too much control over the resort's casino market. That would violate state law prohibiting one company from having an "undue economic concentration," Whelan said.
Meanwhile, casino workers union Local 54 has called on the state to protect the jobs of the casino's 3,000 workers in case of a sale to Hard Rock. The union referenced widely circulated suggestions that if Hard Rock buys the property, it may be temporarily shut down for renovations, leaving the workers to reapply for jobs.
According to the statement signed by DGE Director David Rebuck, the state reserves the right to require that the Seminole Tribe qualify for a license if its circumstances change.
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