Hard Rock Int. Acquires Hard Rock Brand in Nevada, Hints at Future Seminole Las Vegas Expansion

Posted on: May 13, 2020, 05:24h. 

Last updated on: May 13, 2020, 05:44h.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Hard Rock International (HRI) announced Wednesday it had acquired all rights to the Hard Rock brand and related trademarks in Las Vegas. That suggests the brand and its incumbent rock memorabilia may not be disappearing from the city forever.

Hard Rock International
The former Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas is currently undergoing a $200 million makeover into a Virgin-branded property, to open later this year. (Image: KSNV)

HRI bought the rights from Juniper Capital Partners, part of a consortium that includes Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels, which acquired the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas in March 2018 for an undisclosed sum.

The off-Strip property is in the process of transitioning to a Virgin-branded hotel-casino, which will be Branson’s first foray into land-based gaming.

Despite owning rights to the Hard Rock brand in at least 76 countries and across 262 venues, until now HRI had been prohibited from developing, owning, licensing, managing or operating any Hard Rock-branded casino and integrated resort within Clark County, Nevada.

That’s because of a schism in the Hard Rock chain that occurred 30 years ago.

Heading West?

The first Hard Rock Café — also, incidentally, the world’s first themed restaurant — was founded in London in 1971 by American businessmen Peter Morton and Isaac Tigrett, who began expanding the brand throughout the world in the 1980s.

When the pair sold the global Hard Rock operation to UK casino and hospitality company the Rank Group, Morton insisted on retaining hotel naming rights west of the Mississippi.

A year later, plans for the Hard Rock Las Vegas were announced.

Florida’s powerful Seminole tribe, which holds the monopoly on casino gaming in the Sunshine State, acquired HRI from Rank in 2006. Despite the tribe’s voracious expansion in Florida and beyond, it has always been frozen out of America’s gambling capital — at least under its preferred brand name.

HRI chairman Jim Allen said Wednesday that the company would now look forward to “enhancing its presence in Las Vegas,” thanks to the new agreement, which is effective immediately.

As recently as October 2019, Allen expressed an interest in buying a property on the Strip. But HRI is unlikely to rush into Las Vegas in the current climate.

Virgin Territory

The Hard Rock Las Vegas was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management in 2011 in the wake of the last recession. Its new owners have said they are unfazed that the coronavirus crisis has brought Las Vegas to a financial standstill, and plan to open this fall, as scheduled.

But the Virgin Group, whose interests lie heavily in the travel and leisure sectors, has been hit hard by the crisis. Branson’s pleas to the UK government to bail out his struggling Virgin Atlantic airline has largely fallen on deaf ears, despite his offer of his private Caribbean Island as security.

The business magnate said this week he would sell a large of chunk of his stake in spaceflight company Virgin Galactic Holdings in a bid to raise $500 million to shore up his airline’s finances.

Percheron Advisory analyst and cofounder David Hawkins told Bloomberg this week that Branson’s habit of funneling profits from his multiple business verticals directly into new ventures has not left him in a good place to absorb the shock of the crisis.

“He’s made a career for himself as the ultimate disruptor,” Hawkins said. “But now he’s faced with a disruptive world, and, ironically, it’s not working for him right now. He’s again got to get ahead of the curve.”