The iconic Hard Rock — known worldwide for its music-themed restaurants and casinos — is coming to Summit County.
Northfield Park and Hard Rock International announced a partnership Thursday to develop a Hard Rock-branded gambling facility at the harness racing track in Northfield.
The proposed $275 million project would include a video slots parlor, premium steakhouse, music venue, conference area, buffet and Hard Rock Cafe. The joint venture, contingent on Ohio winning an ongoing lawsuit opposing the video slots effort, would bring about 1,000 permanent jobs to northern Summit County.
Track owner Brock Milstein said he wants to build a first-class entertainment destination and selected Hard Rock as his operator because the company has the gambling expertise and is “one of the best brands in the world.”
Hard Rock, based in Orlando, operates 173 venues in 53 countries, including 15 hotel/casinos. Northfield — a small village with about 3,700 people — would join a Hard Rock family that includes such tourist meccas and major cities as Las Vegas, Toronto, Beijing, Paris, London and Singapore.
Hard Rock also has a restaurant in downtown Cleveland. The Northfield Park site would be its first at a horse racetrack.
Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen said the company is excited to be working with Northfield Park and developing a gambling site in Ohio. He called the racetrack, which opened in June 1957, the cleanest and best maintained he has seen in the industry.
“We look at Ohio as this amazing opportunity,” Allen said.
Ohio is on the verge of becoming the 23rd state with commercial casinos or racinos, the industry term used to describe a combined horse track and slots parlor. Four Las Vegas-style casinos are set to open in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo, and the Ohio Lottery Commission is overseeing the process of putting video slots in the state’s seven horse racetracks.
“From a demographic standpoint, it’s been a state for decades that people have talked about if there was ever the opportunity to have gaming, ... that it would potentially be one of the more favorable ones to be involved with,” Allen said. “We certainly feel that’s the case, and we’re looking forward to the future.”
Milstein and Allen said they will push forward with plans to build the facility while the lawsuit continues. They said the facility, which would have up to 2,500 video slots, could be running about a year, or a little more, after the court issue is resolved.
They said the name for the gambling facility has not been determined, but they are trying to incorporate both “Hard Rock” and “Northfield Park.”
Initial plans do not involve building a hotel — something Northfield Park officials always have envisioned when discussing a racino development. But Milstein and Allen said that one could be constructed in the future.
The Northfield Park-Hard Rock deal is unrelated to Thistledown in North Randall and any possible moves or partnerships in the thoroughbred track’s future.
It’s not unusual for those holding a casino license to partner with an established gaming company. Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans, hired Caesars Entertainment to operate his casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Kent State University professor Rob Heiman, who teaches a course on casino gambling, praised the Hard Rock brand and said it would generate interest from nongamblers who want to visit and eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. Those restaurants feature plenty of rock ’n’ roll memorabilia on display.
“They’ve got a pretty good brand of fun, excitement,” Heiman said. “That in itself is an allure to anybody — regardless if you’re looking to gamble or bet on the races or the slots.”
William Thompson, professor emeritus of public administration at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said Hard Rock locations generally attract a younger crowd because of their rock ’n’ roll displays.
The Hard Rock casino in Las Vegas makes more money from its nightclub and merchandise sales than gambling, he said.
“Hard Rock is a name that will bring people in,” he said. “I think people want to see all the guitar decorations.”
Thompson said he could see people going to the racino in Northfield instead of downtown Cleveland for the casino.
Former Northfield Mayor Victor Milani, who has been a tireless advocate for bringing slots to the racetrack, agreed that the Hard Rock affiliation is a big deal.
“It’s the entertainment factor,” he said. “It could bring national [musical] acts here.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 and firstname.lastname@example.org.