At Hard Rock in Atlantic City, celebrities and stakeholders smashed a stageful of guitars to formally open the former Taj Mahal. It was reborn as a star-studded temple to rock and rolling dice, with an opening show filled with confetti and dancing robots.
“We’re committed to this market not just because there’s a gaming opportunity. We believe in Atlantic City, we believe in the state of New Jersey, and we truly believe Atlantic City’s best days are in front of it,” said Jim Allen, Hard Rock International Chair and CEO.
About a half-hour later, Ocean Resort celebrated by simply snipping a ribbon. The former Revel now remade as a family-oriented gaming mecca complete with a brand-new sports betting book by William Hill.
“As you look out and you see the beautiful backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and the infamous boardwalk, Atlantic City is truly back in the game,” said Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam.
“I’m not sure the boardwalk has ever been this busy on this side of the town, but that’s about to change. That is about to change in a big way,” said Bruce Deifik, owner of Ocean Resort Casino.
The ceremonies at the north end of Atlantic City’s boardwalk raised the number of casinos here to nine and doubled down on the city’s gamble to rebrand itself as an overall entertainment resort. Hard Rock predicts enough business for all. It’s focused on a 60 percent gaming, 40 percent entertainment split.
“We congratulate our friends down the street at Ocean, also opening today. People ask me, ‘Jim, do you that a good idea?’ I love when there’s 1,400 beautiful rooms next door,” said Allen.
In partnership with the Florida Seminole tribe, developers gutted Hard Rock. It’s got all the glitz and glamour $500 million worth of renovations can buy. Ocean Resort partnered with actor Mark Wahlberg’s family and the Hyatt Hotel Corporation to transform the iconic casino into a family showplace, anchored by the Deifik family.
“This man has heart. He’s not a corporate person. He has heart. He has emotion. He’s committed. His entire family is committed to seeing this property be successful,” said Dave Rebuck, the director of the Division of Gaming Enforcement NJ.
Last year, Atlantic City’s seven casinos scored a 22.5 percent spike in gross operating profits over 2016. Room occupancy rates also rose. Nine casinos on the boardwalk will expand variety, according to a Stockton University expert.
“You’ve got entertainment, you’ve got food and beverage, you’ve got gaming. All the amenities, plus you’ve got the beach,” said Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University.
The openings drew crowds. A million people are expected to visit through this coming weekend. And the two casino-hotels have hired close to 7,000 staffers, including hundreds of union workers laid off after a labor strike at the Taj pushed the casino to close in 2016. All the hirings lowered the county’s unemployment rate by seven-tenths of a point since January.
“This is a vindication of the workers who stood up to corporate greed, because none of this could have happened unless they had stood up to it,” said Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54.
The city’s betting its two new casinos will finally help bring that long-promised renaissance for all residents, a promise made when the first casino opened here some 40 years ago.