The Hard Rock moves ahead on delayed rebrand of Cincinnati casino

Alexander Coolidge

| Cincinnati Enquirer

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Las Vegas casinos reopen after coronavirus closure

The coronavirus casino closure is ending, with cards to be dealt, dice to roll and slot jackpots to win starting Thursday in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada. (June 4)


Early this year, Hard Rock International was rocking their newly-acquired Cincinnati casino (previously the Jack Casino), with gambling revenues up double-digits and a flashy makeover to reflect the new owner’s brand ready to roll out.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and slammed it along with the rest of the leisure and hospitality sector. Casinos were hit particularly hard – ordered closed for more than two months despite casino officials’ pleas they should be treated as retail businesses that were deemed “essential” and permitted to remain open.

The Hard Rock bounced back after it reopened, managing results for a couple months that beat year-ago comparisons despite all the ongoing pandemic restrictions. Then November curfews stalled that momentum.

Still, the casino‘s president, George Goldhoff, is optimistic and now the casino is slowly moving ahead with its previously paused rebrand that will add the Hard Rock’s name to Cincinnati’s skyline.

The Enquirer caught up with Goldhoff for an update. Below are the highlights:

The Hard Rock had big plans for 2020 – How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect them?

The shutdown halted design and construction plans as vendors and contractors also closed for business. We felt it was most important to shift resources to continue providing benefits to our team members during this time.

The pandemic and related shutdowns and restrictions hammered all Ohio gambling, but hit the Cincinnati market and the Hard Rock particularly hard – why?

We don’t compare ourselves to the other gaming markets as we offer an entirely different product.

The Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati gained considerable (local) market share prior to the March closure. Without question, the pandemic directly impacted the numbers we see overall.

(As demand rebounded before the late fall COVID-19 surge), October revenues for our property exceeded those of 2019… We were encouraged to head into a strong November until the curfew was enacted.

Given that we have been operating without an official brand, and without the 70,000 people typically downtown pre-COVID, to provide foot traffic to our casino, I am optimistic about introducing Hard Rock to Cincinnati next year once the pandemic is in our rearview mirror.

The state shut casinos down for more than two months. Do you take issue with the restrictions state and local officials put in place to combat the pandemic?

We understand the decision made by our state regulators and Governor DeWine. The safety of our guests, team members, and the community is our number one priority.

The curfew directly impacts operations. However, this alternative allows us to keep many of our team members employed. We support the Governor’s efforts to help prevent the spread of the virus due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in the state.

What’s the new timeline for the rebrand?

We are continuing with the planning and design to become a full Hard Rock experience. We’ve already started the behind the scenes work and we look forward to introducing new Hard Rock experiences next year.

We have made plenty of progress by changing over our computer software systems, rolling out new uniforms for our team members, and introducing Bounce Back rewards through the Wild Card loyalty program.

We have also begun moving machines around on the floor to prepare for new carpeting. The carpeting should arrive after the new year, and installations will take place in sections.

Our new Hard Rock look and feel will be vibrant and in typical Hard Rock style – with cool and unique museum quality memorabilia around the property, creating Hard Rock Moments for visitors and players alike.

Will there be a huge guitar sign out front?

We will definitely have our signature guitar marquee installed for our guests to view and with which to pose for photographs. The exact location of a Hard Rock quintessential guitar marquee is not yet confirmed. However, there will be iconic displays both inside and outside the property by the time we are fully branded Hard Rock Cincinnati.

How did you use the shutdown time in spring?

We used the time to clean and disinfect the casino from ceiling to floor. We sanitized air duct systems, walls, carpeting, chips, and slot machines-inside and out. We even power washed all levels of the garage.

You employed 950 last year. How many workers have been displaced by the shutdowns and the pandemic? Between the original March shutdown, the reduced alcohol service implemented in August, and the current curfew, we had to furlough approximately 50% of our team members.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to bring back all of our team yet as we are still not at full capacity, have limited operating hours, food and beverage capacity protocols and the poker room is not open at this point.

Approximately 400 persons are working at the casino currently.

We were fortunate to continue providing full benefits to our staff throughout the shutdown… We also distributed $200 gift cards to team members for groceries on two separate occasions during our temporary closure.

The poker room is closed. What other table games are open besides the slot machines?

Poker rooms in Ohio closed on March 13 and have not been open since the original shutdown. Table games on the casino floor remain open, including craps and roulette.

How do you sanitize on the gaming floor besides offering customers hand sanitizer?

Our Clean Team Task Force works 24/7 sanitizing and disinfecting all high touch surface areas around the clock.

Guests also have an on-demand option of using a call button from their slot machines to request a machine be wiped down.

Additionally, we invested in Electrostatic Atomizers during the shutdown, an advanced technology commonly used in healthcare facilities. We use it on all surfaces, including chips and cards, every 2 hours.

Are you worried about your latest local competition, the historical horse racing parlor, Newport Racing and Gaming? We are quite different than Newport Gaming. We are a full-service casino specializing in creating non-gaming experiences with amenities such as specialty concept restaurants, live entertainment, museum-quality memorabilia, and unique service delivery.

And if our guests are looking for a gaming experience, we offer over 1600 slot machines, 100 table games, a world-class poker room, and we are optimistic that sports betting will be legalized in Ohio. We will be ready to offer a sports betting experience here once it is.

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