For Joe Lupo, getting a job in Las Vegas is like a homecoming. His family and grandchild all live in Vegas, where he started his career long ago as an employee of Boyd Gaming. But for Lupo, the homecoming won’t be complete until they do the “guitar smash”—Hard Rock’s version of a ribbon-cutting—on the brand new Hard Rock Las Vegas that he’ll be leading.
That grand opening, however, is several years off, and Lupo’s immediate responsibility is to run the Mirage, which Hard Rock International bought from MGM Resorts last year for more than $1 billion. And that’s just the operations. Real estate investment trust VICI owns the land.
Lupo is already excited about his Las Vegas job at the Mirage.
“It’s going to be a while before Hard Rock Las Vegas really comes into its own,” he says. “The Mirage is such an iconic building, and is so well established. If you walk into it, you know you’re at the Mirage. And so we’re looking to bringing some of the culture of Hard Rock to the place. I want to bring some excitement, and you know me, I’m gonna push the envelope.”
It’s almost a dream come true for Lupo.
“I’m so fortunate to have this opportunity,” he says. “I’ve worked with so many good people over the years from starting at Boyd Gaming, and now with Hard Rock and Jim Allen. I’m the product of working with great people, and so I never thought I’d get this far when I was here at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and have the chance to be president of the Mirage. I’m really honored to do it, and I’m excited to help lead the team that’s currently there and some of the newcomers that will be walking in on day one.”
The superheated competition of the Las Vegas Strip won’t be anything new to Lupo, who most recently turned Hard Rock Atlantic City into the second-highest revenue earner in that Boardwalk town, after spending almost a decade at the Borgata, the top casino in Atlantic City.
“I personally think it’s great to get different experience and work with different people, and especially coming from the Borgata in Atlantic City, which is one of the most competitive gaming jurisdictions in the country. Then I went to Hard Rock Tampa, and that was one of the most profitable, highest gaming revenue producers in the country, but a much different market, a much different style of organization.”
Making Hard Rock Atlantic City No. 2 was that much more impressive because he did it during the pandemic.
“It was a tough time coming out of Covid, but we had the biggest increases in gaming revenue of anybody by far in the city. I’m really proud of the efforts that we made, and I think all those experiences have molded me really well, along with working with great people. I think leadership and culture play a real big part in the success of a team. So having been able to work with Jim Allen and the tribe and the individuals that were at those properties and getting those different experiences, I think it put me in a great place.”
Lupo’s challenges of running the Mirage while preparing for the debut of Hard Rock Las Vegas are many and varied. There will be lots of changes, however.
“They’ll definitely be operational changes, although we’re trying to create as much consistency as we can. I have to give a lot of credit to MGM and the Mirage team. They’re running a great property. But there are going to be some technology changes. I want stability for the first 30 to 60 days, and it’s always going to be the Mirage until it changes. It will remain the Mirage, but we’ll try and add some fun. We’ll try and add the Unity (Hard Rock’s new loyalty program) complexity to the rewards program, but we will be more aggressive. From a standpoint of marketing, we’re looking at advertising and marketing changes.
“So there’s an interim period of time before it becomes Hard Rock Las Vegas. But I think there’s opportunity, especially in this market, in that people are looking for something fun and new, and I think we’ll be able to provide that.”