Trump Ent. Resorts considers options

Donald Trump’s casino company is looking for a Lucky 7.

Although it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection less than two years ago with high hopes of becoming a contender in Atlantic City, Trump Entertain ment Resorts continues to grapple under the constraints of heavy debt. And like other A.C. casino operators, it is being squeezed by competition from Pennsylvania and New York, a situation that will only get worse once a partial smoking ban goes into effect later this year.

Now, Trump Resorts has hired Merrill Lynch to help the company evaluate its options, which might include selling a single casino or even the entire company, according to three people with knowledge of the situation. Other possibilities include an equity offering to raise cash or even taking the company private, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because the company has not publicly announced its latest move.

A spokeswoman for Donald Trump referred calls to company spokesman Tom Hickey, who did not return a call for comment. Neither did a Merrill Lynch spokeswoman. Trump Resorts‘ chief executive, Jim Perry, was not available for comment.

The casino industry has been the mark of private equity firms re cently, from companies as small as Aztar Corp., which owned the Tro picana, to Harrah’s Entertainment, the world’s largest casino company. But analysts are split as to whether Trump Resorts would be an attractive target.

On the one hand, Atlantic City is the country’s second-largest gambling town, and carries a relatively low tax rate of 9.25 percent; in contrast, Pennsylvania’s is above 50 percent. And Atlantic City has been buzzing with talk of groups looking for a way in, from public companies like Ameristar Casinos and Penn National to private equity firms like the Blackstone Group and Oaktree Capital Management.

Dennis Gomes, former president of resort operations for the Aztar, and Alex Yemenidjian, former longtime director of MGM Mi rage, have also been said to be scoping out opportunities.

Trump Resorts already has been in talks with casino mogul Steve Wynn to sell or jointly develop Trump Plaza into a new gambling resort. And Trump Marina has caught the eye of potential investors.

Trump Resorts „has assets and real estate that could be attractive to a buyer interested in Atlantic City,“ Prudential Equity Group analyst Joel Simkins said in a note to investors.

But the new competition from surrounding states, which has been eating away at A.C.‘s revenue, raises some doubts. Just yesterday, the Casino Control Commission reported Atlantic City casino win dropped 4.8 percent in February, the second month in a row total revenue fell.

Trump Resorts carries USD 1.25 billion in debt, as well as a USD 500 million line of equity. The high debt would make the company an expensive purchase, and its complicated covenants could make it diffi cult to sell a single casino.

„It seems like it’s premature for them to sell the company,“ said Lehman Brothers analyst Jane Pe dreira. „It’s also an uncertain operating environment right now. Most people are going to want to wait for the dust to settle.“