Fifteen months ago, New Jersey investors and developers Jack Morris and Joe Jingoli purchased the Trump Taj Mahal and announced it was going to reopen in partnership with the Seminole Tribe as the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
On Thursday, Morris, Jingoli, Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen and members of the Seminole Tribe opened the property in an entertainment event unlike any that has been seen at the longtime resort town.
After the day’s events settled down — and the last guitars were smashed — Morris sat down with ROI-NJ to discuss all things Hard Rock and Atlantic City.
ROI-NJ: Now that the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has finally opened, is it possible to quantify the impact it has had on Atlantic City and its residents?
Jack Morris: As we’re talking, I’m looking outside at the Boardwalk and I’m seeing thousands and thousands of people. I can tell you, I haven’t had this amount of people on the Boardwalk since I was 5 years old and I came here with my grandparents. There are lines to get in. People are excited about being here.
The employees are excited and are so thankful and grateful to have the opportunity to work here at Hard Rock. People, in general, come up to me and say, ‘Thank you.’ People I’ve never met before are so grateful that the Seminole Tribe, Jim Allen, the Jingoli and Morris families all got together to make a change in Atlantic City. We believe that the change is starting to transform the city.
I think our competition has stepped up their game, we’re seeing it and I think the people of New Jersey are going to continue to see it. We’re happy. We wanted to bring back Atlantic City — it’s on its way.
ROI: Talk about the social impact, because I know that is something that drives both you and Joe Jingoli?
JM: The most amazing impact that it’s had on me has been the employees who have had said, ‘Thank you,’ and told me it has changed their lives. Some of these people have not been able to take care of their families in the way they wanted to. And, now, with this financial opportunity, they’ll be able to do that. We continue to change people’s lives.
My partner, Joe Jingoli, works tirelessly to give people a second chance or even a first chance to get them involved in the workforce, making a good salary and getting an opportunity to have a great job, whether it’s in the construction field or at Hard Rock. We believe that social responsibility is going to carry itself throughout the state.
ROI: Hard Rock brings another level of entertainment value to Atlantic City. How important is it to make sure this is not just a casino, but an entertainment mecca the city has never seen before?
JM: It’s huge. It’s the most important thing. We’re not just another casino. We are about entertainment. You’re going to have entertainment here 365 days a year. You’re going to have incredible acts. We have the facilities to do it at a level that, quite frankly, has never been done here in Atlantic City or anywhere on the East Coast. Because of the performances and the performers, we’re going to have an amazing experience here.
ROI: Sports gambling is something that will help the casino industry in Atlantic City, especially those looking for another niche to attract more audience. Does it work into the business plan for Hard Rock, which already has so many other differentiators?
JM: Every opportunity you have, and every tool that you have, to bring people to Atlantic City who haven’t been in Atlantic City, is great. I talk to people all the time who say, ‘How are you going to get people to Atlantic City from Bergen County?’ Whether it’s sports betting or Pitbull or Carrie Underwood or Rascal Flatts, whoever or whatever it is to get you to Atlantic City, I say, ‘I don’t care how we got you here, as long as we got you here.’
Certainly, the opportunity to come and have events here during the Super Bowl or any of the other sports opportunities, like March Madness, is great. It’s another way to bring people to Atlantic City.
We want to see more people in Atlantic City. It’s like Jim Allen says, ‘It’s not just about taking another customer from a casino, it’s about bringing new customers and new people to Atlantic City. And not just people who want to gamble. People want to come here and they want entertainment, they want to have a good time. There’s nothing better, in my opinion, than the Jersey Shore.
ROI: Let’s talk about the competition. There’s the unique situation of Ocean Resort Casino opening the same day. You guys are going to be tied to each other for some time. What’s that like? How do you feel about them?
JM: Having close to 1,400 quality rooms is a plus for Atlantic City, is a plus for us. We wish them all the luck in the world. We appreciate the fact that Mr. (Bruce) Deifik came into New Jersey. I understand he’s from Colorado. To come here from Colorado and invest in New Jersey: My hat’s off to him. I’ve never met him before, but I’d love to shake his hand and wish him all the luck in the world. Hopefully, they’ll do great.
ROI: This has been quite the adventure to get the finish line, rebuilding the property in 15 months. Was there ever a time when you said, ‘What on Earth were we thinking?’
JM: My wife always says, ‘I always knew you were a little crazy, I just didn’t know how crazy.’ I’ve always had big aspirations of doing things, and this is just one of them. It wasn’t really about owning a casino or a huge hotel. It started with changing Atlantic City and bringing back Atlantic City.
I have a passion for doing this. I remember when I opened Wolfgang’s (Steakhouse in Somerville). People always asked me, ‘How cool is it to open a restaurant?’ I said, ‘It’s nice, because it’s a place for me to go eat.’ The truth is, I knew I wanted to bring back Somerville. To do it, I knew I needed to bring people there to give Somerville a real boost.
Quite frankly, when I was building the place, I went to other tenants, like Starbucks, and they said, ‘No way.’ But I was persistent. And once it was open, and people were in there and enjoying it, they were like, ‘This is incredible. We love this.’ Since I did that, you see all the other buildings that are going up and all the other restaurants that are opening.
When people see success, they like to follow success. I think you’re going to see that here. You’re going to see other people put money in Atlantic City because they are going to see you can make money here.
ROI: What’s the next step for Atlantic City?
JM: You’re going to laugh, but the most important part is the media. You guys are the secret to the success of Atlantic City. Hard Rock is great. It’s got great brand recognition and all that stuff. But the media really hasn’t given a fair shot to Atlantic City. I hope the media reports all the great things in Atlantic City and stands behind us when we need to do things that are difficult. And there are going to be difficult things that we need to do.
We need to continue to build Atlantic City. Bring homeownership back here. Bring new businesses in and do all the things that a great city does.