Building upon success is always challenging, particularly in a competitive business environment such as the one found among Atlantic City casinos. Some people see opportunity and embrace the pressure, while others shy away from the spotlight.
By all accounts, George Goldhoff is firmly part of that first group. The new president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is fully aware of the expectations that come with leading the second-highest-grossing Atlantic City casino.
Goldhoff is (indirectly) replacing Joe Lupo, the casino’s former president. Lupo left AC to run The Mirage in Las Vegas, which Hard Rock recently bought. Luckily, the veteran gaming executive is no stranger to high stakes and appears anxious to take on Atlantic City.
“The challenge is not unique, but the intensity of the challenge is unique,” Goldhoff told PlayNJ during his first interview since being named top executive in late January.
“The competition is fierce here and there are some fantastic operators…(but) I’ve always been attracted to thorny, broken, dynamic, challenging roles, and I knew how complex Atlantic City was.”
Big boss has confidence in Hard Rock AC’s new top exec
Most recently, Goldhoff had been running Hard Rock’s casino in Cincinnati. When Jim Allen told him he was heading to Atlantic City, Goldhoff said he was ready.
“I knew I would thrive in this environment, and I’m really grateful and humbled that I was considered,” he said.
In a press release announcing Goldhoff’s appointment, Allen, the Hard Rock International chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO, said:
“I’m confident George will continue to build on the incredible success we have achieved at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. In just three years of rebranding our property in Cincinnati, he was able to make that casino the leader in the market and I have every reason to believe he will lead our Atlantic City team into the next era with great success.”
Summer in Atlantic City a whole different animal
Admittedly, Goldhoff’s career arc is missing first-hand experience in any Atlantic City casinos. That does not mean it lacks variety or resolve, both useful traits in the highly competitive AC market.
Goldhoff remains confident that previous stints in Las Vegas (he opened the Bellagio as director of food and beverage), Mississippi (pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina), Canada and Ohio prepared him for his first Jersey Shore summer.
“I’ve heard it’s absolutely crazy,” he said with a hearty chuckle. Goldhoff credited the property’s nearly 3,400 employees with setting the stage (to use Hard Rock’s music-themed parlance) now in order to be prepared for the busier time between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“It will be just absolutely a joy to be running the property versus planning to go into a busy summer season,” Goldhoff said.
“It will test us as managers and test our ability to handle more volume and keep that quality level elevated. And that’s always a great experience and a good challenge.”
In Atlantic City casino game, if you’re not growing, you’re dying
But, beyond maintaining Hard Rock’s market position or traversing a summer season, Goldhoff is aware of other hurdles. For one, Atlantic City has not fully rebounded from the pandemic like other tourist destinations (such as Las Vegas or South Florida).
“Gaming revenue in the (Atlantic City) market is flat. If the market isn’t growing, (in order) to grow, you have to compete against others, to take your portion of the competitive landscape,” Goldhoff said.
Hard Rock (along with Ocean Casino Resort) will be celebrating its fifth anniversary this summer. Since their debut in June 2018, Hard Rock and Ocean trail only Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in terms of land-based gambling revenue. As previously reported by PlayNJ, Hard Rock and Ocean have been taking market share from existing AC casinos while the market, as a whole, has struggled to expand.
The launch of the Hard Rock online casino didn’t have near the pomp and circumstance of the land-based casino, but it’s been competitive in the market.
Is Atlantic City really ready for NYC casinos?
Goldhoff, like other Atlantic City casino executives, is also looking ahead. Besides larger economic factors, like inflation and increased costs, AC awaits its biggest challenge to date: New York City casinos.
Within the next year, the Empire State will issue three downstate casino licensees. Two of the licenses expect to go to existing gambling parlors in Yonkers and Queens. The other license is a bidding war. Hard Rock, Caesars Entertainment and Bally’s Corporation (all AC casino operators) each expects to vie for a multi-billion-dollar prize.
Unlike others, who insist AC will weather the storm, Goldhoff is more realistic.
“I believe that Atlantic City will adapt, which is to say that there may be a few less casinos in Atlantic City when New York opens up,” he said pointedly. “The Atlantic City market likely would shrink a bit, which means it’s a little bit of survival of the fittest.”
That pesky smoking issue just won’t go away
The other headwind coming at AC is a probable (likely) smoking ban. The New Jersey Legislature is considering a bill to eliminate the casino loophole allowing indoor smoking. Presently, the state allows smoking on up to 25% of the casino floors in Atlantic City.
Goldhoff noted he has worked in smoking and non-smoking casinos. He emphasized that, beyond his anecdotal experience, the evidence is pretty clear on how a smoking ban would affect casinos.
“The research is pretty much understood that it will have a negative effect. People will make less trips to Atlantic City,” he said. “It will shrink the market. To what degree? I think people have different opinions on that, but it will shrink the market.”
Regardless of what the future holds for Atlantic City, Goldhoff remains thrilled to be part of its present.
“This is also one of (Hard Rock’s) most important jurisdictions. And to have Jim Allen provide me with this opportunity and the confidence to take on the leadership role here is really fantastic and exciting.”