BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Business Report Plus: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino sets opening date

BY Rhonda Schaffler, Correspondent |
  • Hard Rock Hotel and Casino sets June 28th opening date in Atlantic City
  • Billionaire investor Carl Icahn sells his casino business
  • Shuttered Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park reopens next month
  • Tourism industry leads March job growth in New Jersey
  • Gov. Murphy spars with Texas governor over business climate
  • Three business leaders inducted into New Jersey Business Hall of Fame

Given our recent weather, summer still feels far away. But New Jersey businesses that rely on tourism have been busy getting ready for that all-important season.

At a press conference in Times Square this week, Hard Rock announced a June 28th opening of its new casino in Atlantic City. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is already taking reservations, and says its focus will be on entertainment, rather than gambling. The company stressed its commitment to Atlantic City, and promised its new property will look nothing like its predecessor, the old Taj Mahal. You may recall the Taj Mahal used to be controlled by billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who closed the property in 2016 after failing to reach a deal with the casino’s unionized workforce. Icahn is now getting out of the casino business entirely. This week, he sold his Tropicana property in Atlantic City, along with his other casinos, in a $1.85 billion deal with Eldorado Resorts.

Farther up the coast, summer tourism preparations are underway in Asbury Park. Another shuttered property, Asbury Lanes, will reopen on Memorial Day. The bowling alley turned music venue closed in 2015 and since then has been refurbished. Operated by Salt Hotels, Asbury Lanes is part of the multi-billion dollar redevelopment along the Asbury Park Waterfront.

The tourism industry led the New Jersey economy in hiring last month. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,200 new private sector jobs were created in March. Nearly all of those jobs, 3,800 to be exact, were in the leisure and hospitality sector. Those numbers proved to be a bit of sweet revenge for Gov. Murphy this week, who found himself in the unlikely position of defending the state’s business climate to a fellow governor. Texas governor Greg Abbott wrote an editorial in the Star-Ledger encouraging New Jersey businesses to consider moving to Texas to avoid paying high taxes. He had a few other digs as well, but tough-talking Texans are no match for Jersey Boys. Murphy followed up with an op-ed in a Texas newspaper, explaining that he “won’t let anyone get away with taking a cheap shot at his state.” Murphy went on to point out that Texas’ ranking among state economies had plummeted, according to Governing Magazine.

Unfortunately, the Garden State‘s economy had a poor showing in another survey, this one by the American Legislative Exchange Council. That group puts out an annual report called “Rich States, Poor States,” which ranked New Jersey 49th out of 50th in economic performance. An national organization that represents New Jersey wasn’t pleased about that.

“This is a dubious distinction for New Jersey that hasn’t improved much over a decade, and its certain to continue sending companies and their employees to more competitive states,” said NFIB’s State Director in New Jersey, Laurie Ehlbeck. “Dramatic figures in the report show New Jersey taxpayers are leaving the state in droves. Unless there are policy changes, there will be fewer and fewer tax dollars coming in.”

State lawmakers collectively have their work cut out for them. Yet there are business leaders who individually are making a difference in the state, and three of them were recognized this week, as they were inducted into the New Jersey Business Hall of Fame. Hundreds attended the Junior Achievement of New Jersey’s annual event, which was held in New Brunswick. The inductees were: Investors Bank CEO Kevin Cummings, Merck Chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier, and NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka. Proceeds from the event benefit the Junior Achievement’s Education initiatives.