Richard Branson Buys Hard Rock Casino, Bringing Virgin To Vegas

Richard Branson

Billionaire Richard Branson bought the Hard Rock Hotel and will rebrand it as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas at the close of 2019.

“I’m really proud today to announce Virgin Hotels has bought the Hard Rock Hotel, and we’ll be bringing it back to its old glory again under the Virgin brand,” said Branson on the Virgin website.

Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, along with his executives, made the announcement from the Hard Rock March 27 at the outdoor pool lounge of the hotel, reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Friday sale was facilitated by Toronto’s Brookfield Asset Management. Branson partnered with Bosworth Hospitality Partners founder Richard “Boz” Bosworth, the hotel’s new CEO; LA investment firm, Juniper Capital Partners; and Toronto’s Fengate Capital Management.

Branson kept details of sale under wraps

Branson has worked since the 90s to establish himself in Vegas. Even so, Branson and Bosworth would not disclose the purchase price or terms at the press conference. He instead promised “magic” and a hotel not “far out of their way.”

The Hard Rock currently has 1,500 rooms and is a mile east of the Strip, something Branson said affected the price to his advantage. The hotel will keep its name until the end of the renovation, which will occur in phases. The property will remain open throughout the company’s potentially “hundreds of millions of dollars” spent to renovate.

What did he disclose? The longstanding guitar out front may have to go. Instead, it may be replaced with a giant V.

Traveller reported that the property will retain its casino floor, managed by a partner.

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Branson’s Vegas history

Virgin Hotels currently operates one property in Chicago, with almost a dozen in the works. Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leal told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that this Las Vegas hotel comes in as its largest in terms of rooms.

Branson himself set his sights on Vegas first back in 2000 when he launched Virgin Atlantic’s passenger service from London to Vegas. He also contributed investments for the Hyperloop One. He roped the Virgin name into the title, Virgin Hyperloop One, when he joined the transit startup’s board last year.

Branson told Fortune:

“Virgin is all about fun, entertainment, not taking ourselves too seriously. Virgin Atlantic has had a lot of fun flying tons of people to Las Vegas from Britain for many years. Virgin America has done the same, and we wouldn’t have just come to Las Vegas unless we could’ve found the property that was very Virgin, and I think that’s what we’ve achieved.”

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Branson has wanted to open a casino in Vegas for a while now. When the the Virgin Megastore in Caesar’s Palace closed in 1997, he reportedly was in the market for a hotel. However, he just couldn’t find the right one.

Hard Rock sale

This sale comes as no surprise. Reports from November place Branson in the market for a hotel.

Though it opened in 1995, the Hard Rock was sold in 2006 to Morgans Hotel Group Co. for $770 million. Later, in 2011, Brookfield reached a settlement with the owners to assume ownership.

Not only that, but Virgin Hotels will also open a spot in Washington D.C. in 2019 with additional properties planned for major areas. Virgin Voyages cruise ship, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Hyperloop One, Virgin Orbit, and Virgin Galactic keep the Virgin namesake in Vegas for the foreseeable future. Or, at the very, least, in the press.

Photo by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

Katie Callahan

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Katie Callahan is a freelance journalist, blogger and copywriter who covers everything from poker, business, education and politics to construction, startups and cybersecurity.