When Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City opened along the Boardwalk on June 28, it did so without a sportsbook. However, Hard Rock’s days on the sidelines of the burgeoning New Jersey sports betting game are clearly numbered.
In 2016, parent company Hard Rock International inked a deal with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins giving Hard Rock naming rights to the team’s stadium.
Hard Rock president Matt Harkness told reporters at the casino’s opening the company was focused on the big day and would look at sports betting in the future. However, most understood the NFL’s reluctant approach to sports betting and doing business with casinos may have had something to do with there being no sportsbook there.
Hard Rock and the NFL
In fact, in May, during Hard Rock’s NJ Casino Control Commission licensing hearing, Hard Rock International chief executive Jim Allen admitted as much. He said indeed there were restrictions in its 18-year $250 million naming rights agreement with the NFL. Restrictions that could at least delay bringing sports betting on the property.
Just weeks after the opening, documents revealed Hard Rock had inked a sports betting deal. In fact, it had a deal with UK online gambling company Bet365 in place since June 19.
Apparently, the agreement was just waiting for approval from state gambling regulators to move forward.
Between a rock and a hard place
A little over a month later, it became clear the NFL wasn’t going to stand in Hard Rock’s way.
In August, the NFL Business Ventures Committee reportedly gave Hard Rock the authorization it required to move ahead with sports betting.
In fact, the committee went as far as allowing casinos, with or without sportsbooks, to sponsor NFL teams. Although the casinos can’t explicitly advertise sportsbooks with the teams they are sponsoring.
The decision represents a monumental change in the NFL’s attitude towards the gambling business. It provides a path forward, albeit a mysterious one, for sports betting at Hard Rock Atlantic City… just as long as they don’t suddenly start running ads for a Hard Rock sportsbook at the Miami Dolphins’ home games.
Hard Rock AC and Kindred Group
In the meantime, Hard Rock AC inked another deal in mid-August surrounding online and mobile sports betting.
European gambling giant Kindred Group — the parent company of the popular online gaming brand Unibet — reached an agreement to run online and mobile sports betting operations using Hard Rock Atlantic City’s license for the next decade.
Kindred Group is now pursuing a New Jersey Casino Service Industry Enterprise License.
At the time, Hard Rock International online gaming SVP Kresimir Spajic said the company is proud to partner with one of the fastest-growing operators in the industry.
Additionally, Kindred US SVP Manuel Stan said the company is happy to be joining what it believes will become the largest betting market in the world, with a true lifestyle and entertainment brand.
He also promised to give New Jersey customers an absolutely great sports betting and gaming experience. The only question now is when will that experience begin.
Hard Rock and the NJ sports betting market
As of Sept. 14, eight online and mobile sportsbooks products have already launched in the state. The list includes:
- DraftKings Sportsbook
- playMGM Sports
- SugarHouse Sportsbook
- FanDuel Sportsbook
- William Hill
- Caesars Sportsbook
- 888 Sportsbook
Hard Rock AC remains one of only three Atlantic City casinos without a retail sportsbook operation.
The other two are Caesars and Tropicana. However, Caesars has a sportsbook app in NJ, and it’s two sister properties, Harrah’s and Bally’s, have retail sportsbooks. Plus, Tropicana announced in early September it will be partnering with William Hill Race & Sports Book to launch NJ sports betting on the property.
There’s only one question remaining: Will Hard Rock Atlantic City ever join the market or be the last currently operating Atlantic City casino to launch a sportsbook of its own?