Hard Rock GM says a combination of the brand's hip music vibe, top-notch service and a $750 million expansion will enable the Las Vegas property to grow its business without alienating its customer base.

Mark Gore is casino general manager for the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. A gaming industry veteran, Gore has held high-level marketing and operations positions with Bally’s, Rio and Harrah’s Entertainment. In an interview with Casino Journal Editor Marian Green, he discusses the Hard Rock’s challenges and opportunities as well as its $750 million renovation and expansion project expected to be completed in late 2009. The expansion will include the addition of approximately 860 guest rooms, including an all-suite 15-story south tower called HRH, a new north tower called Paradise tower, approximately 65,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, and approximately 65,000 square feet of casino space. The project also includes the expansion of the Hard Rock’s award-winning pool, several new restaurants and bars, a new nightclub, a new, larger Joint live entertainment venue, multiple new retail outlets, a new spa and health club, and a renovation of the Hard Rock’s existing suites and common areas.

Start off with a little background about your gaming industry experience and how you came to the Hard Rock?

GORE: I have been in the industry for over 17 years in high-level marketing and operations positions with Bally’s, Rio and Harrah’s Entertainment. I spent the last five years on entrepreneurial pursuits. I was involved in various ventures in online travel, technology and even a gaming services company targeting high net worth individuals in the U.S and Europe. The Hard Rock was bought by Morgan’s Hotel Group; they did not have a gaming license so they leased out the casino to Golden Gaming while they applied for the gaming license.  I was brought in to run the casino after Morgan’s received the license. I was really excited about the opportunity to reinvigorate the Hard Rock and help it reach its potential. 

What were your initial impressions of the Hard Rock and its impact/potential in Las Vegas? What are its strengths and challenges?

The Hard Rock is one of the top brands in the world.  It’s a brand that reaches all demographics because it means something to you whether you are 21 or 81; we all relate to the music and a feeling of youth which is what Hard Rock is all about. There is a vibe and an energy that no other casino has. Our biggest challenge was a tired product. We are in the midst of a huge expansion right now which will turn a lot of heads in the industry. Our casino division had a great year even under construction and in this economic downturn.  We created value, and our customers responded.      

Who is the Hard Rock customer today, and how is that demographic evolving?

Our customer today is a mixed demo. Our all-suite tower will be a different product unlike anything else in town. We are building a five-star product that will attract the Hard Rock rejecters of the past. This product will help attract a much more affluent crowd - but we will maintain the vibe. Our customers are fashion-conscious, high-worth, risk takers looking to have a good time.  

How is the new ownership driving or changing the brand?

The Morgan’s influence, along with the Hard Rock management team, are collaborating to create a higher quality within the brand. Morgan’s really understands the combination of vibe and service. 

How is the economic downturn affecting the Hard Rock? What are you doing to keep players coming?
Like everyone else we felt the pinch, although not as much as some of our larger competitors. It’s certainly nice to be small in a time like this. We react fast and respond to customer needs. We are not “corporate.” Las Vegas has potentially changed forever in the way we do business. Consumers are searching for value, and we are responding by making the Hard Rock a place for casino gamers. The Hard Rock of the past never put as much emphasis on the casino as we did in 2008.    

What new demographics are you reaching out to?

We are reaching out to an older more affluent demographic. I call them Hard Rock rejecters. They are customers who outgrew the Hard Rock or would never come to the Hard Rock because of the product. Some of these customers still stop by the Hard Rock when they want to let loose, but slept elsewhere. The new towers will give those customers the product and the service they are accustomed to. We are also putting some resources to the international market. We have just launched our Asian department and will be launching a Latin division in ’09.  

Talk about the gaming propensity of your players. 

Our customer is predominantly a table player. Blackjack is the game of choice at the Hard Rock today. We are expanding our casino to 140 table games to keep up with the demand for table game play. The new HRH product and expanded casino will allow us to create a slot area on the casino floor which the Hard Rock has never been able to do. Our HRH tower will have places that will make the slot customers more comfortable and by investing and we will have the latest and greatest technology. We are also making changes to our slot program to really go after the slot business unlike the Hard Rock of the past. We are expanding to 900 units -- almost double of what we have now.  We realize that to have a successful casino we have to be successful in creating the slot environment for our customers.  

Give us a picture of what the expansion will bring to the property.

That’s easy. The best concert venue in the city bar none. A kickass poker lounge. Signature restaurants. Unique retail shops. A casino floor that has life. This is the place that created the Center Bar concept and challenged traditional casino floor designs. And of course, awesome nightclubs. The Hard Rock may not have invented nightlife, but we certainly perfected it. 

What are your hopes for the expansion and for the property going forward?

I would like to see the Hard Rock emerge as the top hotel & casino in the country if not the world. The team we have assembled here at the Rock certainly has the skill and the will to make that happen.