Hard Rock CEO Joe Lupo’s joy about the Atlantic City Boardwalk’s top-grossing casino reaching its fourth birthday on Wednesday with continued strong revenue numbers in 2022 was palpable. And just days before a big July 4 weekend and with COVID-19 very likely in the rearview mirror after two rough summers, there would seem to be plenty of reason to celebrate.
“It’s been a tough four years, really,” Lupo said before a gathering of employees and media on Wednesday morning. “We got off to a great start, and then the pandemic hit. The hugs and tears and kisses we got when we gave away a million dollars in gift cards [to employees]. … I can’t be more proud.”
But even as another four $10,000 donations to local charities marked the clearing of the $1 million mark in such charity by the casino over those four years, it was impossible to ignore the elephant in the room — much less the Cher, Prince, and Elvis impersonators on hand to entertain the crowd.
The “elephant,” of course, is a strike scheduled by Unite Here Local 54 at four casinos on Friday — with Hard Rock tentatively scheduled to meet the same fate on Sunday. Of the city’s nine casinos, only Ocean — which opened on the same day as Hard Rock in mid-2018 — and Bally’s are said by union officials to be in “The Green Zone,” as they have agreed to accept whatever new labor terms are reached with their rivals. Some progress appears to have been made in talks with Golden Nugget and Resorts, hence their “Yellow Zone” designation.
But industry leader Borgata and the city’s three Caesars Entertainment properties — Caesars, Harrah’s, and Tropicana — face a strike on Friday, and Hard Rock on the eve of July 4. That has them listed by the union as being in “The Red Zone.”
Mayor, Hard Rock boss upbeat
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. told the crowd he recalled getting a tour of the under-construction Hard Rock — a massive retrofitting of the former Trump Taj Mahal property — in March 2018.
“I told them that there was no way they’d be open by June, but they did it,” Small said. “Hard Rock has remained aggressive, in the best way. They have shown interest in the overall makeup of the city, and they have been a good partner.”
After the event, Small told NJ Online Gambling, “I’m very optimistic. It’s in everyone’s best interest to come to an agreement, and we support the workers. The city council just did a resolution to that effect, and I am more than confident that a deal will be reached.”
Lupo then echoed those sentiments for NJ Online Gambling.
“We’re looking forward to a great July 4 weekend, and I don’t have any reason to believe otherwise,” Lupo said. “Obviously, high gas prices have impacted us a little bit, but I’m looking forward to a very positive July and a very positive summer.”
What if there is a strike?
The longest strike in Atlantic City casino history took place in 2004 and lasted 34 days. Casino gambling floors remained open, but many restaurants were closed and housekeeping was limited, in some cases. A labor shortage in 2022 would complicate efforts to fill a void left by striking casino workers.
But Lupo said, “We’ll have rooms every day. There’s no doubt that our rooms and our property will be open. I can assure you that our casino floor will be open, and our shows will go on.
“I also expect us to come to a result [with the union], and we will not be impacted.”
Still, labor talks between the union and Trump Taj Mahal collapsed in 2016, leading owner Carl Icahn to blame the union for the casino’s closure and the loss of thousands of jobs.
It’s also not just July 4 weekend that is at stake. The city landed a coveted national convention of the NAACP that runs from July 14-20. Potential limited services at many casinos and the prospect of convention visitors having to decide whether to cross union picket lines would no doubt put a damper on that event.