Hard Rock gets preliminary OK to enter New Jersey market

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The company that has populated the globe with Hard Rock casinos and restaurants received preliminary approval to enter the Atlantic City casino market.

And although the approval does not yet extend to other areas of the state where casinos may someday be legal, Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment is looking at the Meadowlands outside New York City, if that market ever materializes.

The company received a statement of compliance Thursday from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. That is a preliminary step in becoming licensed to own a casino in New Jersey.

Hard Rock owns 16 percent of the Meadowlands Racetrack and has been given the right by its majority owner to be the gambling operator there. That would require an amendment to the state constitution allowing casino gambling to expand beyond Atlantic City, but popular and legislative support for such a move has been growing in recent years.

CEO James Allen did not reveal plans for any specific project. But he said he has had conversations this month with Glenn Straub, the Florida developer who is buying Atlantic City's shuttered Revel casino out of bankruptcy.

No agreement has been reached for Hard Rock to partner with Straub on a purchase, and Allen would not say whether Hard Rock might be interested in being a co-purchaser of Revel with Straub, or the operator or manager of the facility.

"We've certainly been looking at Revel, going back to our inception," Allen said. "It's an amazing building, but it does have some challenges."

A spokesman for Straub did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Hard Rock considered trying to buy Revel before it shut down, and Allen told the commission it had made a bid for Revel that was not accepted before a bankruptcy auction was held. Hard Rock did not submit a bid in the auction, Allen said.

The company is owned by Florida's Seminole Indian tribe and has long had an interest in Atlantic City. It proposed a small rock 'n' roll themed casino hotel in 2011, but dropped the plan shortly afterward.

The company was the only one approved to participate in a pilot program to build so-called "boutique" casinos of as few as 200 rooms instead of the 500-room minimum requirement currently in effect. New Jersey is moving toward dropping the requirement that boutique casinos be new construction; a bill under consideration would allow the conversation of existing non-casino buildings into casinos.

Allen said it does not appear to make financial sense to build a new casino in Atlantic City from scratch but said, "We love the boutique casino concept."

The approval granted Thursday gives the company more flexibility.

"If the right opportunity comes along, we can move quickly," Allen said.


Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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