Three Months In, Hard Rock Atlantic City Makes Surprising Change In Leadership

hard rock atlantic city

It seems as though Hard Rock Atlantic City has been a mainstay along the Boardwalk in New Jersey. After all, with legalized NJ sports betting expanding, the news of Hard Rock’s late-June opening feels ages ago.

Obviously, though, the property is still settling into its digs.

Now, just over three months after opening its doors, Hard Rock has more adjusting to make.

In an announcement made by the company on Monday, Hard Rock AC president Matt Harkness, at the forefront of the resort’s arrival, will not hold his position beyond October.

As reported by the Press of Atlantic City, Harkness will be replaced as property president Nov. 1. Filling the void: Joe Lupo, currently the president at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa in Florida.

Hard Rock AC’s first prez shown the door

Harkness held his position since July 2017, helping oversee Hard Rock AC’s development from the former Trump Taj Mahal into one of the Boardwalk’s newest properties. A native of New Jersey, Harkness established himself as an experienced gaming leader, logging more than 30 years of managerial experience in the industry.

Interestingly, 15 years featured Harkness working in Atlantic City for Trump Casino Resorts. Stints included senior vice president and executive director of casino administration for the Taj.

At the time of Harkness’ appointment as president, Hard Rock International chairman and CEO Jim Allen displayed excitement:

“With his many achievements and successes in previous leadership roles, we look forward to Harkness bringing his wealth of knowledge in the gaming industry to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.”

Now, it seems, Harkness will be reassigned within the company. As reported by the Associated Press, Hard Rock International noted Harkness will assume “new responsibilities,” though none were specified. There was no official reason provided for his departure either.

“I would like to thank Matt for his contribution to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City,” said Jon Lucas, COO of Hard Rock International, “and appreciate his efforts leading the successful opening of this exceptional property.”

Lupo takes the reins at Hard Rock Atlantic City

Replacing an established New Jersey personality is another former longstanding Atlantic City casino employee.

Prior to taking over in Tampa, Lupo worked with Boyd Gaming for 30 years, including 13 years at Borgata Atlantic City. There, Lupo served as senior vice president of operations, overseeing gambling, marketing, and entertainment. He left in November 2016 for Florida.

Said Allen: “Joe has been a talented and proven leader at our Tampa property and previously at Borgata, creating significant property success in both markets.”

Hard Rock casino still establishing a foothold

After opening June 27 alongside Ocean Resort Casino, Hard Rock has worked to demonstrate its value in Atlantic City. Hard Rock AC launched its online casino a day after opening its resort doors.

Yet as NJ sports betting took off around it, Hard Rock remained, and still does, without a regulated wagering operation. All told since the $500 million property debuted, Hard Rock middles the pack of nine casinos in total gaming revenue.

As June’s grand opening neared, Harkness confirmed with PressofAC that the casino would explore implementing sports betting.

“We’re not opening with sports betting, but it’s something we’re taking a very hard look at for the future,” Harkness said. “Right now, quite frankly, we’re just focused on the opening.”

Within the first few days of July, Hard Rock partnered with bet365 to offer sports betting. Since, however, Hard Rock AC has remained silent.

With new leadership, Hard Rock appears to reassume a rosy outlook. And with it, perhaps soon, the AC casino will make a stronger run at becoming one of the Boardwalk’s go-to properties.

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Grant Lucas

About

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant now focuses his attention on the growing NJ online gambling and sports betting scene.