When Hard Rock International purchased JACK Casino Cincinnati in April 2019 — and closed the deal a few months later — most expected to see the iconic Hard Rock guitar rocking the Cincy skyline at some point in 2020.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everyone’s plans this year, including those of Hard Rock.
As 2020 comes to a close, the new Hard Rock Cincinnati Casino is open for business and welcoming guests. Yet it still features the JACK branding.
Even so, George Goldhoff, president of Hard Rock Cincinnati Casino, looks back on the year positively. He is also optimistic when looking ahead to the Ohio casino properly introducing itself to the Queen City in 2021.
Shutdown, reduced hours slow design and construction plans
Goldhoff spoke with The Cincinnati Enquirer last week (article paywalled), reviewing challenges the property faced over the last year and outlined intentions going forward.
As Goldhoff puts it, the unusual circumstances of 2020 didn’t really change the Hard Rock’s plans. Rather, those adversities have only delayed the company from getting started in earnest.
“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 review mirror,” Goldhoff said.
When the pandemic hit in March, casinos in Ohio all closed, much as they did across the country. After reopenings began a couple of months later, Hard Rock began inviting guests back June 19. The property did so with new safety protocols in place and a 50% limit on capacity.
Those protocols include a “Clean Team” charged with “sanitizing and disinfecting all high-touch surface areas around the clock.” Additionally, every two hours, the casino uses electrostatic atomizers on surfaces as well as on chips and cards.
It was (mostly) business as usual, with slots and most table games up and running. An exception was poker, as all poker rooms in Ohio have remained shuttered since mid-March.
But while day-to-day operations moved ahead, the renovation and rebranding could not.
“The shutdown halted design and construction plans as vendors and contractors also closed for business,” explained Goldhoff. “We felt it was most important to shift resources to continue providing benefits to our team members during this time.”
‘Behind-the-scenes work’ to rebrand already underway
Even during the pandemic, the casino did well, relatively speaking. In fact, October revenue increased year-over-year. Then, in November, Gov. Mike DeWine imposed a new curfew forcing the Hard Rock and other casinos to close each night at 10 p.m.
“The curfew directly impacts operations,” explained Goldhoff, who added the casino nonetheless fully supports the governor’s efforts to stop the increase of COVID-19 cases.
He noted that while the casino employed around 950 individuals a year ago, that figure has been reduced to about 400.
All of these factors — the spring shutdown, the reduction in staff and restrictions since reopening — understandably slowed the progress to rebrand. But momentum is picking up once again.
“We are continuing with the planning and design to become a full Hard Rock experience,” said Goldhoff, who added that “behind-the-scenes work” to rebrand has already begun to move forward.
Such work includes changing computer systems, new uniforms for staff, revising the loyalty program and installing new carpet. All that while preparing to showcase the music-themed memorabilia found at all Hard Rock properties.
Coming soon: the Hard Rock guitar
Speaking of, preparations are underway to install one other vital ornament to the property.
“We will definitely have our signature guitar marquee installed for our guests to view and with which to pose for photographs,” Goldhoff confirmed.
Visitors can expect to see the “quintessential” display appearing both outside and inside the casino. The exact location of the guitar outside the casino has yet to be determined. That said, Goldhoff assured the Inquirer the guitar will be in place once the rebranding is fully complete.
Goldhoff did not specify when exactly that day will come, though he did indicate it will be sometime during 2021.
Meanwhile, expect a post-pandemic Hard Rock Cincinnati Casino to feature 1,600 slots, 100 table games and a reopened poker room. It will also feature a prominent sportsbook, according to Goldhoff, should Ohio legalize sports betting after failing to do so in 2020.
“Our new Hard Rock look and feel will be vibrant and in typical Hard Rock style.”