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Hard Rock Gaming

Stephen Karoul chats with Nelson Parker VP of Casino Development Hard Rock International

With a total of 206 venues in 64 countries, including 158 cafes, 23 hotels and 11 casinos, Hard Rock International (HRI) is one of the most globally recognized companies. Is Hard Rock International a brand or is Hard Rock International a lifestyle?

Hard Rock International is a world-class entertainment company that has been infusing hospitality with music and fun for more than four decades through its portfolio of Cafes, Hotels, Casinos and Live Music Venues around the globe.

Hard Rock is certainly a brand, but most would say it is also a lifestyle that embodies the power of music as a universal language to bring people together through authentic and memorable experiences. Overall, music is at the core of the Hard Rock brand: it is our main differentiator – the single thread of brand DNA that runs through everything we do. How that differentiator is applied depends on context varying by location, venue and target guest profile, among others.

Nelson, as you know, Casino Life Magazine takes great pride in interviewing leading industry CEO’s, Presidents and senior level executives to better understand both the companies that they work for or own, as well as what are the key attributes for their success. Please tell our readers about yourself and why you feel aligned with Hard Rock International?

I’ve spent my entire 20-year professional career doing corporate development with the majority of that time focused in the gaming industry (previously Argosy Gaming and Foxwoods). Over this time, I’ve worked on nearly every type of casino development project imaginable around the world; each of them posing a new and fascinating challenge.

I still feel incredibly passionate about what I do and thrive on the diversity and excitement of the projects I’m fortunate enough to be a part of. I guess this is what keeps me on the road 3 out of every 4 weeks per month having visited 26 countries last year.

I joined Hard Rock nearly 6 years ago for two reasons. First, it truly is an amazing brand. I remember visiting Hard Rock Cafes when I was a kid and being in awe of the music memorabilia adorning the walls. I still find it incredible and, fortunately, so do many others. Whether it’s the music, the memorabilia, the food or something else altogether, it just works; and, more importantly, it works equally across an incredibly diverse range of cultures and demographics, as well as venues (Cafes, Hotels & Casinos), often obtaining a significant premium compared to ours.

The second reason I joined Hard Rock was its capacity and appetite to grow its global estate of properties through each of its verticals, but more importantly for me, its hotel and casino portfolio. The company is extremely well positioned to grow and I wanted to be instrumental in realizing its potential.

Hard Rock International is now involved with 11 casinos. What kind of synergy do you see between casino gaming and the typical Hard Rock International customer?

Where Hard Rock excels is in its ability to appeal to such a broad range of guest profiles. The Hard Rock customers share synergies in the sense that the brand attracts and caters to both the young and the young at heart – music enthusiasts who share a desire to connect with music in a fun and exciting setting designed to allow for playfulness and exploration. A setting that is upscale, yet anything but uptight.

Hard Rock’s gaming consumers are attracted to the brand for the same reasons as regular consumers – authentic experiences, upscale design, limitless service, a fun approach to hospitality, live music programming and so much more. However, the Hard Rock Gaming consumers are attracted to the brand for its strong variety and mix of offerings – outside of world-class gaming Hard Rock Casinos provide the highest quality of music, entertainment and F&B. Additionally, Hard Rock gaming properties are backed by the strong Hard Rock brand which has a proven track record of exemplary service and diversity of offerings.

Do you think that cross marketing between venues and customers is possible for Hard Rock International and if so, how will that help increase casino revenues?

We have an incredibly loyal following of the brand and people seek our Hard Rock venues around the world to experience what each unique location offers. When we recently opened our casino in Ohio, the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park, we saw a tremendous influx of customers who had played at other Hard Rock Casinos. The vast number of loyal brand fans is part of what made Hard Rock the statewide leader in VLTs/slots revenue in Ohio since the day we opened there. Now, our new customers in Ohio are travelling to our casinos in Florida, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

In addition, while our hotels, cafes or live music venues are considered destinations unto themselves, a Hard Rock Casino in most cases infuses several of these different brand offerings and it is not unusual for a Hard Rock Casino to include a live music event space, branded F&B, or other brand features. Our consistent brand offerings and the variety of offerings available at our destinations are what allow Hard Rock gaming properties to be much more than just casinos and in turn attract a much broader range of patrons to our facilities.

Hard Rock International is expanding aggressively now all around the world. Are there any geographic areas that are now of greater interest than others and if so, why?

Our casino expansion strategy is very much global and continues to be a central focus for Hard Rock’s long-term growth. We will continue to aggressively target potential acquisitions, emerging markets and management opportunities (both commercial and tribal) throughout North America. For example, in the U.S. the state of Georgia is of particular interest. We also have an ownership interest in the Meadowlands in New Jersey, which we believe would be one of the most successful casinos in the country should enabling legislation pass. The privatization of casinos in Ontario is also something we’ve been closely following.

We are also quite active in Asia currently pursuing a number of interesting opportunities, as well as in South America and the Caribbean. In addition, we continue to believe that certain strategic locations throughout Europe make a great deal of sense for us to create larger-scale hotel/casino offerings that currently do not exist in the region. For instance, I’ve been spending a great deal of my time in Spain over the past year where we are in the process of submitting an RFP to develop a large, world-class Integrated Resort project just south of Barcelona. It would be the largest project of its nature in Europe. This would be a significant project for us and we are very excited about its potential.

Beyond this, we are constantly seeking out opportunities to work with existing hotel/casino or resort/casino owners to assume management and reposition their properties to a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. We have an incredible track record of transforming properties into market leaders and achieving significant EBITDA gains by applying the brand. There are many examples, but the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is one of the best. Revenues have more than tripled since we converted this 1,800 room resort with the largest casino in the Caribbean back in 2010.

“Being a Rock Star has its privileges.” Tell us a little bit about the Hard Rock Rewards program and how it integrates with your casino properties?

Hard Rock Rewards is a cross-platform initiative that was started several years ago to reward and provide unique benefits to frequent patrons of our cafes, hotels, casinos and Rock Shop retail stores. It was not an easy undertaking given the diversity and nature of our operating platform, but the program has really taken off and last year we added over 1 million new members. We expect this trajectory to continue and are looking to add numerous enhancements in 2016.

If you had a crystal ball and were able to forecast the future, what do you see in store for Hard Rock International ten years from now?

I see Hard Rock as one of the world’s premier destination resort casino developers and operators. I also see exponential growth of our hotel/casino portfolio on a global basis.

We have the brand and resources to accomplish this. It is more of a matter of executing upon the right opportunities.

Steve Karoul is a recognized casino consultant with over 36 years of hands-on experience with the best casinos both within the United States and internationally. He is also an authority on all aspects of casino marketing. Steve has lived in numerous countries and has conducted casino marketing activities in well over 100 countries around the world. He also monitors Poker, online Poker and online Gaming around the world. He is an author, a lecturer and an educator who often injects his own hands-on experiences and openly shares his ideas and thoughts with fellow industry executives.www.euroasiacasino.com