Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today
The Seminole Tribe of Florida has consolidated its control over the “Hard Rock” hotel and casino brand.
The tribe's Hard Rock International recently announced it bought the intellectual property rights for a Las Vegas hotel and casino, opening the door for the brand to buy — or more likely build — a new property in the city.
Hard Rock International said in a statement it now owns the “exclusive full rights to memorabilia, signage, and merchandise, along with intellectual property rights for affiliated restaurant and entertainment trademarks and website domain names.”
The tribe previously bought the Hard Rock casino and hotel-casino rights in the western United States, as well as Australia, Brazil, Israel, Venezuela and the city of Vancouver, British Columbia.
The latest acquisition means the Hard Rock brand “has now been united for the first time in more than 35 years under one controlling ownership,” said Jim Allen, Hard Rock International’s chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO.
The iconic Hard Rock Hotel Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, built in March 1995, was the first rock ’n’ roll-themed hotel.
When the Seminole Tribe bought the Hard Rock International brand a decade later, it did not include the Las Vegas resort. Hard Rock Café founder Peter Morton held onto it for personal and financial reasons.
But by 2013, Morton finally sold it for $770 million cash to JC Hospitality, a company that plans to open the renovated property as a Virgin Hotel later this year.
JC Hospitality has returned the majority of the memorabilia from the former Hard Rock Hotel — stage clothes, guitars, lyric sheets — to Hard Rock International. About 20 percent of it was on loan and has gone back to the original owners.
Hard Rock International also gains ownership of the 82-foot-tall Gibson Les Paul neon guitar that sat outside the entrance to the resort for decades.
A Hard Rock Café had opened on the site in 1990.
The hotel debuted a few years later, with plush rooms featuring leather-padded headboards with musical notes and rock ’n’ roll photos on the walls. A huge pool with a sand beach hosted daytime parties. Memorabilia filled glass-enclosed cases throughout the resort.
The location also held a rock club called The Joint.
Until then, Vegas had a somewhat staid reputation as a place for middle-age gamblers and retirees. Buffets were the norm, and hotel décor was dated but flashy.
At the time, Peter Morton said, "We did a lot of marketing studies. Everything gave us an extremely strong indication that there are a lot of 30-year-olds in America who go to Bruce Springsteen concerts and like to gamble."
Morton’s instinct was on target as the resort became a huge hit for the younger rock ’n’ roll set. Environmentally friendly, pet friendly, the resort brought in gourmet restaurants with young, hip celebrity chefs.
The rock legacy was secured when John Entwistle, the bassist for The Who, died of a heart attack in a suite at the Hard Rock on June 27, 2002.
Sandra Hale Schulman, Cherokee, has been writing about Native issues since 1994. She is an author of four books, has contributed to shows at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and has produced three films on Native musicians.