Here’s How I Spent 3 Hours At Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati

Written By Mike Breen on October 10, 2023
The logo of Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati for a story detailing how an Ohio bettor spent three hours in the casino.

There are four casinos in the Buckeye State. There’s one in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati.

In Cincinnati, Hard Rock Casino is your only option for slot machines, table games and sports betting.

The Cincinnati facility is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week. It is located just off Interstate 71 and nestled in the Pendleton neighborhood between downtown and the hip Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

I ventured to Cincinnati on a chilly Sunday afternoon in early October to see what the casino has to offer.

Cincinnati casino rebranded to Hard Rock in 2021

Ohio awarded four casino licenses in 2012. Initially, Caesars Entertainment held the Cincinnati license and opened a Horseshoe Casino in 2013.

Then, the property was bought by JACK Entertainment and rebranded as JACK Casino Cincinnati.  Finally, JACK sold the casino to Hard Rock International in 2019. The casino reopened as Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati in 2021.

Since then, Hard Rock Casino has become a popular entertainment destination for locals and visitors. Furthermore, the deal makes sense for the Seminole Tribe-owned Hard Rock International too — from both a retail and online perspective.

Ohio hasn’t legalized online casinos yet. But odds are they will do so in the next few years. Most states force online casinos to have a brick-and-mortar property in the state. The purchase could allow Hard Rock to have the inside track for a mobile casino license, whenever online casinos in Ohio become legal.

Besides the expected plethora of gambling options, Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati has a variety of restaurants to choose from. Additionally, it sports several full-service bars, live music and a vast array of memorabilia from some of the top artists in music history.

Here’s what you can expect when visiting the casino.

Getting there: Where to park and where to stay

There are two ways to get into Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati. The main entrance at Broadway and Central Parkway is hard to miss. It features a giant guitar statue in front of the two-story, glass-encased entryway.

The casino also has a connected five-story parking garage just off Central Parkway, north of the main entrance. I mistakenly entered the valet parking area first. The property allows Wild Card members to valet for free and charges anyone else $15.

The entrance for self-parking is just a little further north. Parking was free and abundant in the garage.

A nice touch: the garage entrance was emblazoned with the quote, “Welcome back, my friend, to the show that never ends.” It’s a lyric from a song by rock legends Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The lyric is actually “my friends,” but let’s assume Hard Rock was trying to be more personable and intimate with the entering customer.

The entrance from the parking garage is opposite the casino floor from the main entrance. Staff is posted at both entrances. You must be 21 or older to enter, and the staff is serious about enforcing that rule. I saw some younger men get carded before they were let in.

If you come in from out of town, you’ll have to find somewhere else to stay. The company hopes to build a hotel on the premises at some point. But for now, Hard Rock recommends staying at one of its partner hotels.

Those partners include downtown’s Hyatt Regency on Fifth Street, about a 20-minute walk from the Hard Rock Casino. Downtown’s Residence Inn and Springhill Suites also partnered with the casino.

Take advantage of Hard Rock’s Wild Card Rewards program

The first thing you should do upon entering is head to the “Players Club” desk. It’s located near the middle of the casino floor, just across from the cashier’s cage.

There, you can sign up for Hard Rock’s Wild Card Rewards program. It is free and takes less than 10 minutes. The attendant will take your ID and personal information to create your account. You’ll be asked to pick a four-digit PIN, and your account is ready.

As a new Wild Card Rewards member, I received a card with $10 in free play (which I eventually lost in a matter of minutes playing slots). I also received a coupon for $5 off at one of the dining establishments at the casino. If you lose on your first day as a Wild Card member, you can get up to $200 back in free play.

Your rewards card tracks your earnings and losses. As you play, you earn points and can climb up the four-tier program. Achieving a higher status results in better rewards, including comps for casino play, dining and the gift shop.

Hard Rock has slots galore

The Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati is a 100,000-square-foot facility and is essentially one long, open gaming floor. There are separate rooms for poker, high-limit games and dining and entertainment options along the side. It takes about 10 minutes to casually walk the entire floor from one entrance to the other.

The majority of the floor is filled with slot machines. It is dense with them. The Hard Rock Casino boasts over 1,600 slots, ranging from more modern and complex games (including Buffalo Link, Rakin’ Bacon and Fortune Mint) to more vintage “Bar Bar Bar” type machines. Limits range from a penny to $100.

There is a separate high-limit slots room that I could not check out because I hadn’t gotten my Wild Rewards card yet. Over the summer, the Cincinnati TV news channels reported that the high-limit room had added a Wheel of Fortune game with a $100 minimum and a potential $1 million payout.

Wide selection of table games and a high-limit tables room

Scattered throughout the center of the casino floor is a wide selection of nearly 100 table games. The casino offers roulette, craps, baccarat and blackjack. Various poker-based table games are also available, including Criss Cross Poker, Pai Gow Poker, Three-Card Poker and DJ Wild.

Table games on the floor had limits ranging between $5-25 minimums and maximums up to $3,000.

I could breeze through the high-limits table games room, which was only about a third full on this particular late afternoon/early evening. The high-limit table games had between $50-$100 minimums, with max limits of between $5,000 and $10,000.

The Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati also has a really nice, large poker room. During my visit, there wasn’t much action. But the casino’s poker room hosts daily poker tournaments and some larger poker events. The Moneymaker Tour’s main event, with a $1 million guaranteed prize pool, wrapped up a few days before my visit.

Besides live dealers, the casino also features numerous electronic table games. These tables were mostly empty during my visit.

Hard Rock’s sportsbook is a good place to catch a game

I was checking out the Hard Rock Casino as the Cincinnati Bengals were facing the Arizona Cardinals in Arizona. This could explain the relatively light attendance overall. The game was on television all over the casino, and you could often spot gamblers roaming the floor and stopping to watch a play or two.

I thought at first the periodic outbursts of cheers I heard throughout the casino were due to a string of big wins at the slots or tables. But they always turned out to be the result of a big Bengals play.

Those cheers got louder as I approached the area near the Hard Rock Cafe. The restaurant/bar hosts various local and regional live bands on weekends.

The area is also home to the Hard Rock Bet Sportsbook, one of the top-performing Ohio sportsbooks. As a result, it was filled with sports fans grabbing food and beverages, while watching the game on a huge bank of televisions (some of which were showing baseball and other sporting events).

The sportsbook area includes a row of Hard Rock-branded sports betting kiosks and a couple of teller windows. The sports betting kiosks — and screens displaying odds and scores — could also be found throughout the casino.

Hard Rock is clean and smoker-friendly, but no free alcoholic drinks

Smoking isn’t permitted indoors in Ohio, but the Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati does feature two sizable enclosed smoking “patios” that include several dozen slot games. One of the patios didn’t appear to have heating lamps, but the cold wasn’t unbearable.

The other busier patio was a little larger and did have several well-placed heating lamps. It also had a full bar. Both smoking patios had vending machines that sold packs of cigarettes for $16.

Besides the numerous bar locations, beverage service is made easy at Hard Rock with buttons to call a server located on most of the games. There are no free alcoholic drinks at Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati — that’s against Ohio law — but non-alcoholic drinks are free.

Cashing out is also very easy. If you don’t want to wait in line at the cashier, there are numerous machines throughout the casino floor where you can easily cash out your tickets.

I must note that the entire casino I saw was remarkably clean. The casino had cleaning staff bustling throughout the floor, wiping down machines constantly. It was impressive.

There are solid bar and dining options

The Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati has a nice variety of dining options.

For the high-rollers (or perhaps just those having a good night at the tables), there is a high-end steakhouse restaurant called Council Oak Steak & Seafood. The restaurant has been well-received in the Cincinnati press, with one reviewer commending its great service, pricey cuts of prime beef, fresh seafood and solid wine selection.

The aforementioned Hard Rock Cafe has seated dining (as well as bar seating) and a limited menu of sandwiches and bar appetizers.

The other restaurants are presented in more of a “food court” style, with walk-up ordering and casual seating.

Hard Rock patrons can opt for Asian fare at YouYu, which boasts authentic Balinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Nepalese, Mandarin and Cantonese dishes at reasonable prices.

More casual food can be found at Brick’d Pizza, which has an array of brick-oven-cooked pizzas. Or, if you want to grab a quick coffee, pastry or sandwich, you can hit up Constant Grind.

Impressive bar staff

A handful of bars are scattered around the premises, including ones at most of the dining sites.

I stopped by the Center Bar, which, as the name suggests, is smack dab in the middle of the casino floor. There was some cozy seating around the bar, welcoming revelers to take a little break and watch the game.

Like most Hard Rock staff, the bar staff was friendly and helpful with a couple of my stupid, non-drinking questions about the casino.

The casino’s Rock Shop is also worth a quick pop-in. Along with snacks and various Hard Rock-branded merch — from clothing to candles — it was fun to browse some higher-end products. Win big at the Wheel of Fortune slot machine? Why not grab a ridiculously expensive Prada bag, a brand-new iPhone 15 Pro or a PlayStation 5?

Music theme sets Hard Rock apart from other casinos

Overall, I found the non-gambling options fairly impressive at Hard Rock Cincinnati.

I’m a huge music fan, so I enjoyed checking out the memorabilia found throughout the casino. It’s like an offshoot of another Ohio attraction, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

During my visit, I got to see drums played by The Who’s Keith Moon, a doodle by John Lennon, Tommy Lee’s motorcycle, guitars played by Bo Diddley, Joe Perry and Eddie Van Halen and outfits worn by the likes of Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Elvis and members of Ohio new wave greats DEVO.

As a bit of a Cincinnati music aficionado, I also appreciated the localized touch of honoring King Records, the revolutionary Cincy-based record label that released groundbreaking records from a wide range of soul, funk, blues, jazz, country and bluegrass artists in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.

The Hard Rock Casino has a nice display near the entrance by the parking garage featuring a mural with some of King’s artists, as well as instruments and memorabilia from King-affiliated greats like Otis Williams and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. There were also items on display from Cincinnati music heroes like Bootsy Collins and Blessid Union of Souls.

The music piped into the casino was less in tune with the musical heritage represented at Hard Rock. But I’m sure light, innocuous pop music was market-tested and deemed more fitting for the diverse, gambling-focused clientele the casino attracts.

Still, the overall music theme sets Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati apart from other casinos and gives visitors something unique to do when not gambling.

Perhaps time your visit to an upcoming concert?

Besides hosting live cover bands on the weekends in the Hard Rock Cafe, Cincinnati’s Hard Rock Casino also presents a variety of bigger concerts throughout the year. If you’re coming in from out of town, check out the event calendar on the casino’s website to see who’s coming up.

The casino presented its first summer concert series on its big lawn near the front entrance this summer, showcasing acts like Ludacris, Bush and The Beach Boys.

The casino also has a huge second-floor Event Center where comedy and music headliners perform. Upcoming concerts being advertised during my visit included Foreigner and Travis Tritt.

Photo by Hard Rock International
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Mike Breen

Mike Breen covers Ohio’s budding sports betting industry for PlayOhio, focusing on online sportsbooks and the state’s responsible gambling initiatives. He has over two decades of experience covering sports, news, music, arts and culture in Ohio.

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