Jose Luis Villegas / Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

The Horizon in 2008.

Old Tahoe hotel to become Hard Rock casino

Published: Thursday, Jul. 17, 2014 - 9:04 pm

An aging Lake Tahoe hotel is being turned into a Hard Rock casino as the Tahoe region tries to breathe new life into an ailing tourism market.

The owners of the Horizon Casino, which has been closed for renovations since late March, said Thursday the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe will open sometime in December.

The deal with the operators of the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas represents a substantial bet for the Park family, which owns the Horizon and other land holdings in the Tahoe area. Despite declining tourism numbers in the past decade, the family is pouring about $55 million into renovating the Horizon, said Jon Park, who will oversee the project with his brother David.

“I think everybody feels it’s very good news,” said Patrick Ronan, chairman of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

“You had a hotel that was dilapidated and rundown, and now you’re going to have serious money put into it,” said Ronan, who runs the Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge on the California side of the lake.

Tahoe tourism has been under assault ever since full-fledged Indian casinos opened in Northern California more than a decade ago. Casino revenue at Tahoe has dropped by about 40 percent since 2001, while the overall tourism counts have fallen by about 30 percent. The competition from California intensified last fall with the opening of the $800 million Graton Resort in Sonoma County.

On the other hand, the economic recovery has brought developers at Tahoe out of hibernation. The infamous “hole in the ground” along Highway 50, a construction site that was supposed to become a massive convention center and hotel but sat empty five years, is being turned into a multimillion-dollar dining and retail complex. The Cal Neva casino on the north shore, once owned by Frank Sinatra, has been closed for an extensive renovation that is supposed to be complete at year’s end.

“Things are starting to move,” Park said. “Things are starting to pick up.”

He said the Hard Rock at Tahoe “is not just going to be about gaming.” The Horizon’s 40,000-square-foot casino will be downsized to an estimated 25,000 square feet, he said.

“We’ve got the lake,” Park said. “We’re going to have an outstanding swimming pool. The casino is going to be just a part of it.”

The 500-room hotel will include a live music venue, and Park said the Hard Rock theme will help booking musicians. “We’ll be able to attract big names,” he said.

Ken Adams, a casino industry consultant from Reno, said he thinks the Hard Rock casino can do well at Tahoe. But it’s not likely to attract a slew of new casino customers to Tahoe from Northern California, he said.

That means whatever success Hard Rock enjoys would come at the expense of other properties at Tahoe, he said.

“Hard Rock brings … a kind of energy,” Adams said. “It will rearrange market share.”

Specifically, he said the Hard Rock would put pressure on the other big casinos at the south shore: Harveys, Harrah’s and the Mont Bleu.

The Park family is licensing the Hard Rock brand from HRHH, which owns the Vegas casino. The family formed a partnership with Warner Hospitality, operator of 10 gaming and non-gambling hotels around the country, to run the Tahoe property.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

Read more articles by Dale Kasler

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