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Hard Rock granted casino license in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Hard Rock had an easy time with New Jersey gambling regulators on Wednesday, gaining a license to reopen a casino and begin Atlantic City's recovery from a string of gambling hall closures on a property that President Donald Trump once hailed as "the eighth wonder of the world."

The Casino Control Commission granted a license to Hard Rock, the worldwide hotel, gambling and entertainment company owned by Florida's Seminole Indian tribe. It is reopening the former Trump Taj Mahal.

The casino is set to reopen on June 28 — the same day as another shuttered Boardwalk casino, the former Revel property, that will open as the Ocean Resort Casino. Together, the new casinos will restore as many as 6,500 of the 11,000 jobs Atlantic City lost when five of its 12 casinos went out of business since 2014. Casino officials say Hard Rock has received 50,000 applications for 4,000 jobs.

"What we have in store is going to blow people away," said Jon Lucas, chief operating officer of Hard Rock International. "It'll be a boost for the reinvention of Atlantic City."

Four casinos — The Atlantic Club, Showboat, Trump Plaza and Revel — went out of business in 2014. The Trump Taj Mahal followed in 2016.

Hard Rock gutted and is completely renovating the casino resort that Trump opened in 1990.

"We could have just re-carpeted and put up some (memorabilia). But we want to grow Atlantic City rather than just moving people from an existing facility," said James Allen, CEO of Hard Rock International.

The casino has budgeted $30 million for entertainment in its first year, Allen said. That will fund over 300 nights of live music, comedy and drama. Carrie Underwood (June 29) and Pitbull (June 30) will be the first acts to perform there.

The casino will have no debt, being self-financed by Hard Rock and its local investment partners, Allen said. The resort plans to offer internet gambling and sports betting, if it is legalized.

The Taj Mahal went bankrupt within a year of Trump's opening, and Trump lost control of it in a subsequent bankruptcy years later when bondholders took over. His friend and fellow billionaire Carl Icahn shuttered the Taj Majal in 2016, after failing to reach a labor agreement with Atlantic City's main casino workers' union.

Hard Rock bought it in March 2017 after repeatedly testing the waters in Atlantic City. It had proposed, then abandoned a plan for a smaller music-themed casino in 2011, and its executives considered buying Revel after that casino had gone dark.

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