NORTHFIELD, Ohio - When the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield opens its doors in December it promises to be unique in more ways than just its name.
It will be the first of the state's racinos to be a stand-alone facility. The one floor, 200-thousand square foot facility rising in the parking lot of Northfield Park will be connected to the track by an outside walkway.
"Instead of trying to retrofit it into an existing building you can kind of mold that building into what you want," said Hard Rock Rocksino's President Jon Lucas of the decision to build from scratch.
What Lucas and Hard Rock want is not just a gambling space but an entertainment destination.
"I think this experience is going to be very different than the competition," he said. "Not just ThistleDown but I think throughout the state. We're going to have a lot of components besides our VLTs."
And the Rocksino will have plenty of those; 2,300 video lottery terminals to be exact. The newly opened ThistleDown Racino has 1,100, but what Lucas said will set them apart are the non-gambling amenities.
"Everybody's got VLTs or slot machines or table games and the odds are basically the same from one casino to another so what sets you apart from the competition? One of those things that can really set you apart is the entertainment component," said Lucas.
"There's been a lot of research done and studies done on what percentage of the customers take advantage of the food and beverage, take advantage of entertainment. It's a significant portion. "
As a result the Hard Rock at Northfield will feature a 2,000 seat Hard Rock Live Theater, a 350 seat comedy club, a Hard Rock Café that will have a stage.
"The non-gaming component of our business has become so important and a good way to drive people when they try to make a choice of where they want to go," he said.
It's a lesson Lucas learned years ago in Atlantic City where he got his start in the business working for more than a decade at the Sands Casino.
The Sands was, in the end, the smallest of Atlantic City's casinos but it always managed to get some of the biggest names when it came to entertainers.
Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Cher, Liza Minelli, Robin Williams, Whitney Houston, Eddie Murphy are just a handful of the entertainers who headlined the Sands famous Copa Room.
"We used entertainment as a real marketing tool for us with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston," recalled Lucas. "I'm not sure we'll have those names here," he joked "but we'll have some great entertainment here that will really attract some people."
They are also taking steps to court those who like to play and smoke. Since there's no smoking inside Ohio's casinos and racinos they will be expanding on ThistleDown's outdoor patio with gambling where patrons can smoke. The Hard Rock will feature three separate patios at different parts of the building with outdoor gambling, heated floors and overhead heaters as well.
Lucas said the partnership between Hard Rock and Northfield Park has been an ideal one, drawing upon the knowledge of the market and experience of Northfield Chairman and CEO Brock Milstein. "It's the only casino whose majority owner is from Ohio so I think that's a pretty important component," he said.