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Hard Rock joins Atlantic City upgrade

by The Associated Press | May 4, 2021 at 1:53 a.m.
FILE- In this July 2, 2020 file photo, Gary Royster of Atlantic City holds up a wad of cash he used to gamble at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City on the day the casino reopened after being shut down for months amid the coronavirus outbreak. On May 3, 2021, Hard Rock officials told The Associated Press they will spend $20 million on renovations, the latest in a line of Atlantic City casinos to reinvest during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, FILE)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- With covid-19 restrictions limiting how many people can gamble inside, and revenue and profits plunging, this might not sound like the best time for Atlantic City's casinos to be spending big on renovations.

And yet they are, looking to a post-pandemic future when gamblers will be looking for the latest thing. They're investing hundreds of millions of dollars with those days in mind.

The latest to open the corporate checkbook is Hard Rock, which said Monday it will spend $20 million to renovate hotel suites, open a Starbucks outlet, purchase new slot machines and tables games, add a new restaurant and upgrade its beachfront amenities.

The renovations come in a span of a few weeks in which Ocean Casino Resort announced it is spending $15 million on upgrades to the casino floor, as well as outdoor amenities like pools, cabanas and the beach, and Harrah's unveiled three new restaurants, a new spa and a renovated lobby bar.

Harrah's parent company, Caesars Entertainment, recently outlined specifics of the $400 million it pledged it would make at its three Atlantic City casinos (Caesars, Harrah's and Tropicana) during last year's change-of-ownership hearings before New Jersey gambling regulators.

And Bally's Corp. is plowing $90 million back into the Atlantic City casino of the same name that it acquired from Caesars Entertainment last year.

Both those investments will span three years.

The coronavirus outbreak sent profits plunging by more than 80% last year at Atlantic City's nine casinos, and things would have been worse had it not been for the continued growth of internet gambling and a small assist from sports betting.

But the virus won't last forever, and when customers do return in droves, casinos want them to come to their facilities.

By Hard Rock President Joe Lupo's reckoning, there are three "new" casino companies in Atlantic City: his own, which opened Hard Rock in June 2018; the forthcoming 50% partnership in the Ocean casino by the Ilitch family of Detroit (Ocean opened the same day as Hard Rock); and the new Caesars Entertainment, which kept the name but adopted the management of the former Eldorado Resorts in last year's merger.

"We realize we have an opportunity. The constant change gives our visitors something new to look forward to, and that has always been important in Atlantic City," Lupo said.

This July 2, 2020 photo shows a game of craps underway at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City N.J. On May 3, 2021, Hard Rock officials told The Associated Press they will spend $20 million on renovations, the latest in a line of Atlantic City casinos to reinvest during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
This July 2, 2020 photo shows a game of craps underway at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City N.J. On May 3, 2021, Hard Rock officials told The Associated Press they will spend $20 million on renovations, the latest in a line of Atlantic City casinos to reinvest during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
This Jan. 16, 2020 photo shows the giant guitar at the entrance to the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City N.J. On May 3, 2021, Hard Rock officials told The Associated Press they will spend $20 million on renovations, the latest in a line of Atlantic City casinos to reinvest during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
This Jan. 16, 2020 photo shows the giant guitar at the entrance to the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City N.J. On May 3, 2021, Hard Rock officials told The Associated Press they will spend $20 million on renovations, the latest in a line of Atlantic City casinos to reinvest during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
This April 30, 2021 photo shows the exterior of the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City N.J. Ocean is among numerous Atlantic City casinos reinvesting millions into their operations amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
This April 30, 2021 photo shows the exterior of the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City N.J. Ocean is among numerous Atlantic City casinos reinvesting millions into their operations amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
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