Will the new Jack Cincinnati Casino add a hotel?

Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-04 09:00:19-05

CINCINNATI - It won’t be just the name that changes when Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati becomes Jack Cincinnati Casino in June. Operators will invest in new slot-machine products and may expand the number of restaurants in the facility. They’re also more open to building an on-site hotel.

“We don’t go into these businesses to stand pat or be caretakers,” said Matt Cullen, CEO of Jack Entertainment LLC in Detroit. “We want to continue to grow and provide opportunities for our team members and guests. So, we’re going to keep our eyes open and make investments where it makes sense to achieve those goals.”

Cullen runs the former Rock Gaming companies owned by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, including Horseshoe casinos in Cincinnati and Cleveland and the Greek Town Casino-Hotel in Detroit. All three will be rebranded as Jack casinos by the end of this year. So will the ThistleDown racino near Cleveland.

Gilbert’s Ohio casino properties are phasing out a management agreement with Horseshoe parent, Caesar’s Entertainment, after buying out out the Las Vegas company’s 20 percent ownership stake in Cincinnati and Cleveland.

A crowded Cincinnati casino market has made life rough for casino operators in recent years. Horseshoe quickly became the market leader in Cincinnati, with $217 million in first-year revenue after opening in March 2013. But it never got close to the $300 million goal it established prior to opening.

Jack Entertainment aims to change that by investing $40 million in the rebranding effort, including several million in Cincinnati, Cullen said. In addition to signage and new uniforms, the casino will invest in non-gaming amenities like restaurants and concerts.

“We have the newest and best full-service casino in the marketplace and we’re very proud of our non-gaming amenities,” Cullen said. “But we think we can even take it up a notch.”

Cullen said the new Jack Cincinnati Casino will look for local and national restaurant concepts that could replace Jack Binion and complement its other dining options. Those include Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Bobby’s Burger Palace and The Spread Buffet. One option is to replace Jack Binion with more than one restaurant.

“We certainly have capacity for more and we’re evaluating it,” he said. “What we want to have is the best and most fun kind of place we can find.”

On the technology front, Jack Entertainment announced a new contract Thursday with Scientific Gaming Corp. to install a new suite of Bally Systems slot machines that can send individual promotional messages to frequent customers. The system is designed to complement the casino’s new loyalty program, which Cullen describes as a “four-level” reward system that “accrues benefits faster than any other program.”

But perhaps the biggest change in the casino’s operating approach involves its long-term view on the hotel business.

When the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati opened in 2013, Gilbert promised not to build his own hotel on the site – opting instead to boost the Downtown hotel industry by booking blocks of rooms for its out-of-town guests.

But “lots of things are changing in that regard, ” Cullen said. “There’s lots of new hotel product.”

Since the Horseshoe property opened in March 2013, Cincinnati’s central business district added three new hotels with 572 rooms. Three more hotels with 393 rooms are in the pipeline, aiming to be open by next summer. More than 1,000 Downtown hotel rooms have been renovated.

Total hotel revenue in the 45202 zip code increased 38 percent to $118.6 billion between 2012 and 2015, according to STR, a data and analytics company.

“The market has changed in a very positive way,” Cullen said. Building an on-site hotel “didn’t make any sense at the time. It could make sense in the future, but we’re not doing anything with it now.”