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Inside Gaming: Hard Rock Finalizes Taj Purchase, Plans 2018 Opening

Hard Rock Cafe on Pennsylvania Avenue in Atlantic City
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  • After completing its purchase of the Trump Taj Mahal, the Hard Rock is making Atlantic City plans.

  • Florida lawmakers continue to battle over gambling expansion; Melco announces rebranding.

This week's Inside Gaming shares the latest regarding the Hard Rock coming to Atlantic City, provides an update on Florida lawmakers' tangling over gambling expansion, and tells of a big rebranding being undertaken by a major Asia player.

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City Targets Summer 2018 Opening

In early March came news that Hard Rock International had agreed to purchase the Trump Taj Mahal, taking the shuttered Atlantic City property off billionaire business magnate Carl Icahn's hands. This week the new owners announced the deal had been finalized, and on Wednesday shared details of their plans to spend $375 million in preparation for a summer 2018 opening, reports the Press of Atlantic City.

"If we can't do it right, we're not going to do it," stated Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International. "Our commitment to Atlantic City has never been stronger and we look forward to being a catalyst for further growth and development in the area."

The new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City will feature two arenas with total seating of 7,000 as well as 2,400 slot machines and 130 table games. According to Hard Rock International, the rebuilding will create more than 1,000 construction jobs, with the property ultimately providing 3,000 jobs permanently.

Both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian are enthusiastic about the Hard Rock's arrival.

"This is an extraordinary brand that is coming here to Atlantic City," said Christie. "The investment is great news for the city and state." Meanwhile Guardian echoed the sentiment, saying "2018 is going to be a great year for us."

Currently seven casinos remain open on Atlantic City's famed Boardwalk. Five have closed since 2014, with the Trump Taj Mahal being the most recent to shut its doors last October. (Above is a photo of the Hard Rock Cafe on Pennsylvania Avenue, located near the old Taj Mahal.)

Read more about this week's announcement in the Press of Atlantic City. Also, for an interesting opinion piece on why there is good reason to be optimistic about the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, see "Why Hard Rock is in a better position than Revel to be a game changer."

Florida Lawmakers Continue Battle Over Gambling Expansion

There's an intense heads-up battle (of sorts) going on between the Florida House and Senate over the future of gambling in the Sunshine State.

In late January a state Senate committee approved a new gambling bill, one that would allow slots at dog and horse tracks in counties outside of South Florida, enable the Seminole Tribe to offer at its casinos craps and roulette, and make possible the building of casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Late last week the entire Senate passed the bill by a 32-6 margin.

At the same time the House has been at work on its own gambling legislation, and this week amended the Senate's bill including taking away craps and roulette from the Seminoles while letting them continue their exclusivity over blackjack and slots. That amended bill was passed by the House, but the two chambers will need to find some sort of compromise in order to agree on the specifics of a bill both can support.

Differences in the ideological leanings of the two legislative bodies make finding a middle way all the more challenging. As news-press.com of Florida explains, "Conservatives, who dominate the Florida House, want to restrict gambling, while the moderates, who dominate the Florida Senate, want to expand it."

Both bills seek a revenue-sharing agreement with the Seminole Tribe that would benefit the state to the tune of at least $2 billion over the next seven years, and perhaps as much as $3 billion.

The Seminoles are an important player at this table as well, of course. Their negotiating position was improved late last year after a district court judge ruled in the Seminoles' favor in their lawsuit against the state, giving the tribe blackjack through 2030 without requiring them to make any further payments to the state.

The current legislative session ends in early May, meaning the time is limited for the House and Senate to resolve their impasse.

Read more about the competing bills and visions for Florida gaming at news-press.com.

Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. Announces Rebranding

On Wednesday Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd., the Asia-based company that operates casinos in Macau and the Philippines, announced plans to rebrand as Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd.. Also announced was an intention to remove the Hard Rock brand from the City of Dreams casino resort in Macau, GGRAsia reports.

Starting in July, the Hard Rock Hotel at the City of Dreams will be renamed The Countdown, a name it will continue to use through March 2018 after which it will get a new branding, said Melco Resorts.

"The hotel will feature a countdown clock timed to the unveiling of the new phase of development of City of Dreams," explained the press release regarding the Hard Rock rebranding. Also planned for in April 2018 is the opening of a fifth hotel tower, to be called Morpheus.

Along with the company's name change will come a change to its NASDAQ stock ticker name from "MPEL" to "MLCO," starting "on or about April 6."

The move to omit "Crown" from the company's name is connected to the Australia-based Crown Resorts' decision to sell off nearly half of its stake in Melco last December.

The City of Dreams is currently hosting the PokerStars Championship Macau series, and the live reporting team from PokerNews is on hand delivering news regarding all of the action. Both the HK$42,400 Main Event and HK$103,000 High Roller are playing out currently, with final tables coming this Sunday.

For more on what Melco describes as its "rebranding journey" and broader near-future plans for the company, visit GGRAsia.

Photo: "Hard Rock Cafe and Trump Taj Mahal" (adapted), elPadawan, CC BY 2.0.

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