he Florida-based company would partner with New York-based Och-Ziff Real Estate at the southern end of the city, at the foot of the Black Horse Pike, one of three main entranceways to Atlantic City. Hard Rock said it has not yet determined how many hotel rooms it would build.
Hard Rock, which operates 13 casinos around the world, said it supports a bill introduced Monday in New Jersey's legislature that would permit new casinos with as few as 200 rooms, down from the current 500-room minimum.
"We are intrigued by the newly proposed legislation, which makes entering the marketplace more manageable," said company chairman Jim Allen. "Despite current headwinds, Atlantic City remains the country's second-largest gaming market and would be an exciting location for a Hard Rock Hotel and Casino."
Hard Rock International is wholly owned by the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida. The company said its project would include "an ultramodern gaming floor, luxury hotel, world-class dining and entertainment," a beachfront pool and a spa. It said it would cost at least us$ 300 million to build the complex on largely vacant land that it still needs to buy.
On Monday, state Senator James Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, introduced a bill designed to make it easier to build smaller casinos. He said the struggling resort city desperately needs new gambling outlets, but the us$ 1 billion to us$ 1.5 billion cost of mega-casinos is making building them all but impossible.
Atlantic City's newest and most successful casinos each have about 2,000 rooms — part of a strategy of exceeding the minimum requirements to dominate the market. So far the strategy has worked. The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Harrah's Atlantic City, and the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort each have about 2,000 rooms and are routinely among the leaders in revenue each month.
But another us$ 1 billion mega-casino project known as "Revel" has sat unfinished for more than two years and needs new financing before it can be completed. Operators of the smaller casinos would pay a higher tax rate — more than 14 %, compared with just over 9 % for casinos that had to build larger hotels to get licensed.
Many of the existing casinos oppose lowering the minimum requirements, arguing it would be unfair to let newcomers get into the market with a smaller investment than the established casinos had to make.
But Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the largest casino owner in Atlantic City with four properties, is keeping an open mind. "If they just put up a 200-room hotel and a casino, we're not interested," said Don Marrandino, the company's eastern division president. "But if they build something that enhances visitation and has some real `Oh my God' non-gaming amenities that adds to the market here, it would be something we'd have a positive reaction to."
Allen said reducing construction costs and getting financing for casinos were important considerations for the company in Atlantic City. If built, the Hard Rock would be Atlantic City's 13th casino, including Revel, which could open in 2011.