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Arnold M. Knightly

Hard Rock has Asia on mind

18 February 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Hard Rock Hotel is hoping this week will offer some clues about whether the resort's new focus on Asian gaming will pay off.

The property has spent $770 million on its expansion to add hotel rooms and suites, a concert hall, restaurants and more -- but it is using the two-week Chinese New Year holiday that began Sunday to highlight its new campaign aimed at attracting Asian customers, a demographic that had largely bypassed the casino in the past.

The property has planned several Asian-themed events to coincide with the Chinese New Year holiday, ranging from food specials to a concert, to lure Asian players to the property. It has also hired casino hosts with high-end Strip experience and is reaching out to the local Asian community through advertising.

"We think there's a tremendous upside in that market," said Mark Gore, the general manager of the casino. "Something the Hard Rock's never ever had is a piece of that business that we want to tap into and get our fair share."

The Hard Rock's new campaign will target Asian players living in Las Vegas, as well as those from the elsewhere in the United States and Canada.

"We think whereas some of the Strip properties are looking at half-a-million (dollar), or a million (dollar) and above customers, we're into that $50,000 to $500,000 customer," Gore said. "I would call it our sweet spot here. We'll certainly take the million-dollar customer."

Casino industry analyst David G. Schwartz believes the Hard Rock's efforts might not show any significant results for a while because of the economy.

"The problem is any player who isn't really high end is really watching their money right now," said Schwartz, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Gaming Research Center. "If (the Hard Rock) can figure a way to get them here, that would be fantastic."

The off-Strip property is not planning to go head-to-head with the large Strip operators who already have a presence in the Asian market. Wynn Resorts Ltd., Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Mirage all have casinos in Macau.

The Hard Rock name is familiar in Macau, though, because of a branding agreement that allows a separate group to operate a Hard Rock-branded hotel in the multibillion-dollar City of Dreams resort.

Gore, however, said it hopes to peel off some of those customers who are familiar with the Hard Rock name when they come to the Strip.

"We don't want to try to compete with (Wynn, Sands and MGM Mirage) in that market," Gore said. "They have a foothold on that market, they have properties there. We'd like to steal some of their customers when they bring them to town to drop by and check the Hard Rock out."

The Hard Rock believes it now has the right offerings to keep Asian players engaged.

A new international pit in the casino features games preferred by Asian players -- baccarat, midi-baccarat, mini-baccarat and pai gow. It added its first true high-limit room when it completed a 40,000-square-foot casino expansion in December.

But it isn't just about offering the right games. Gore said the Hard Rock kept the Asian players' preference for everything from lighting to music volume in mind when it was designing the new casino.

"The domestic customer comes to party and let loose; the Asian gamers are here to do a job," Gore said. "They're not here to party. They're serious about their gaming, so the loud music was always a distraction. When we built this new casino, one of the focuses was to attract the hard rock rejectors of the past."

The property also opened a suite in the new HRH Tower designed by a feng shui consultant and there is an Asian-themed restaurant with a noodle bar near the new high-limit room.

The new push to attract Asian players could be a welcome boost for a casino that has performed poorly as a percentage of property revenue since it opened in 1995, according to independent casino analyst Frank Martin.

In 2008, the casino generated $53.3 million, which is only 32.4 percent of the property's net revenue. In 2007, the casino only accounted for 29.7 percent of the property's revenue.

"Thirty-two percent is extremely low," Martin said. "Usually an older, smaller casino is 75 percent (of overall revenue), but something like the Wynn is around 40 percent. My guess is that is the lowest, by far, than anyone on the Strip."