Can Hard Rock survive without Peter Morton?

Jun 13, 2006 4:36 AM

Will the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino lose its often controversial but successful edginess once Peter Morton, a co-founder of the brand that began as a London nightclub, takes his money and runs?

The Morgans Hotel Group is paying $770 million for the Las Vegas resort Morton opened in 1996.

Without Morton’s "Midas touch," Vegas observers are wondering what will happen now to this brand that has attracted attention way out of proportion to the profits it generates.

The Hard Rock’s success lured the owners of other brands hoping to cash in. The parallel success of the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace underscored the willingness of visitors to be tempted by something other than slots and table games.

But many of the brands failed to last on the Strip. Their strategists tried to use a Las Vegas presence to create "legs" for images and products that amounted to wishful thinking on the part of their creators

You see, the Hard Rock was a pop culture icon before it landed in Las Vegas and became a must-see.

But will Morgans, which is farming the casino operation out to another company — possibly Boyd Gaming — have the same touch that Morton did? Or will the appeal of its sexy, edgy image fade to, well, ordinary?

Will Morgans be able to duplicate Morton’s style? For instance, the Hard Rock’s super successful Body English nightclub and the resort’s occasionally raunchy billboard ads have stirred the emotions, even some from gaming regulators who questioned whether the ads crossed the line.

And will Morgans marketers be able to reproduce a campaign for the National Finals Rodeo that featured a billboard with panties around the ankles of an attractive (well, use your imagination) woman and a line that said, "Let’s buck all night?"

It’s hard to image Morgans straying from the core customers who made the Hard Rock an icon in Las Vegas. Then again, Morgans may learn that style can’t be bought, at any price.

Can Le Reve
be Wynn-erized?

Steve Wynn was reaping the benefits of Franco Dragone, the former Cirque du Soleil creative genius, years before he had anything to do with his Le Reve production at Wynn Las Vegas.

Dragone had created O in 1998, which opened to rave reviews in a hundred-million-dollar showroom at Wynn’s Bellagio.

Wynn had hoped Dragone would create something just as striking for his newest $2.4 billion resort.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way and Wynn’s agreement to buy out Dragone for a bit more than $15 million apparently ends a relationship that was once seen as crucial to the success of Wynn’s newest hotel.

Wynn is taking over the show and has told members of the cast and crew that there will be changes involving special effects, choreography and costuming.

Most, if not all, of the specialty acts will be retained, according to a source who spoke only with the promise of anonymity, "because the acts are good, but they are going to be presented differently.

"We’re bringing in decent business," my source continued, "but what Steve wants to do is make this the one show everyone positively has to see if they are going to see anything."