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Hard Rock A.C., Ocean Resorts Casino deal with hype very differently

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When Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City opens its doors in June, it will be the final act in a highly publicized play that included a Times Square news conference, Miss America, massive job fairs and the transformation of one of Atlantic City’s most recognizable buildings.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort hotel and casino

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort both reopened closed gambling halls on June 27, 2018, and the two properties appear to be heading in the right direction.

On a smaller scale, Hard Rock launched a preview center at Tanger Outlets The Walk, held public meetings with city officials and residents, publicized artistic renditions featuring the iconic giant guitar and appointed a dedicated person with close ties to the city to perform community outreach.

In the resort’s history, the marketing and promotional muscle behind the pre-opening of Hard Rock has likely only been rivaled by the building’s former occupant, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.

Just a few blocks north on the Atlantic City Boardwalk sits an enormous glass tower with a single sign bearing the logo of Ocean Resort Casino. Pictures on social media show a new gaming carpet with a slot machine, updated amenities in the hotel rooms and the property’s Exhale Spa. Other than a highway billboard and a recently announced partnership with Hyatt Hotels’ luxury travel experience brand, Unbound Collection, Ocean Resort has been relatively quiet.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort hotel and casino

A drone view of Ocean Resort hotel and casino in Atlantic City. April 9, 2018 (DeSean McFadgen /provided)

Both properties are expected to open this summer — Hard Rock officials said June 28 is “100 percent in stone” — but industry experts say the stark differences in the way Atlantic City’s two newest casinos are going about their pre-opening business should be expected.

Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University, said the Hard Rock and Ocean Resort brands are distinct from each other, as are their target audiences.

“This is as it should be and far more of a positive for the city than if both casinos were putting out the same message to the same potential customer,” he said.

Other than hype, the biggest contrast between the two is the visibility of the renovation and construction work at the properties.

The remodeling of the former Taj Mahal into the Hard Rock became noticeable last summer and recently crews have been working furiously to have the property ready in just a few weeks’ time.

Ocean Resort Casino, which occupies the $2.4 billion structure formerly known as Revel Casino-Hotel that closed in 2014 after two years of operation, requires much less structural and aesthetic attention.

Behind the scenes, officials from Ocean Resort say they are hard at work at preparing the high-end casino-hotel for an opening.

Frank Leone, Ocean Resort CEO, said the property will be open by this summer and is “committed to exceeding our guests’ expectations.”

“The grand opening of Ocean Resort Casino represents much more than an opening of a casino, but instead is a sign of the continued positive trend in tourism and gaming in Atlantic City,” Leone said. “Given that there is much to accomplish in a condensed timeline, we are keenly focused on the initiatives that directly impact our guests.”

Part of the varied approaches to launching their respective projects is the companies behind them, said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Schwartz said people know what to expect from a Hard Rock casino and the established relationship it has with its guests allows it to be “a little more aggressive” in the time leading up to its opening.

“I think that Ocean Resort has to educate people in what is an Ocean Resort,” he said. “What’s it going to be like? What are you going to do there?”

Robert Ambrose, a professor of casino management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a gaming industry consultant, said the Hard Rock brand has instant name recognition, while Ocean Resort is a “brand in progress” following its partnership with Hyatt. Both approaches, Ambrose said, are beneficial to their respective futures in Atlantic City.

“The name recognition certainly helps to identify a property that will be competing with some very well-established brands in the A.C. market,” he said.

Even before Hard Rock’s April 18 news conference in New York, gaming experts agreed the spectacle was exactly what someone would expect to see from the global entertainment brand. On the other hand, the reserved and measured approach taken by Ocean Resort is more in line with its aim of delivering a high-end beach resort and spa experience.

Hard Rock Atlantic City sets June 28 opening, 60 acts and 300 nights of shows

“If Hard Rock’s pre-opening is loud and boisterous, it is only in keeping with the company’s overall approach and brand promise to consumers. They are making a conscious effort to literally put their mark on Atlantic City and erase every last minaret and elephant at the former Taj,” Pandit said. “Ocean Resort’s approach may seem quiet, especially in comparison to Hard Rock, but this is in keeping with their brand promise to deliver a luxury spa resort experience.”

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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