No Deal for Trump’s Casino Company

Atlantic City, New Jersey (AP) — Donald Trump knows the art of the deal. But he won’t be making one for his three New Jersey casinos. The company that bears the flamboyant real estate mogul’s name had been up for sale for several months. But Trump Entertainment Resorts announced Monday it is not likely to be sold.

That caused shares of the debt-laden company to plunge nearly 17 percent, and Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock to neutral.

The operator of three Atlantic City casinos said its board determined none of the „indications of interest“ received met its expectations.

„Now we will continue as we have to focus on our strategic operating plan, which has produced strong results for us,“ said company spokesman Tom Hickey.

That plan stresses reducing costs and attracting more high-rollers to the company’s three casinos, instead of merely seeking more players.

The company is building a new 786-room hotel tower at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, its largest casino. The addition should be ready in the third quarter of 2008.

Trump Entertainment was in talks with a group led by former Atlantic City casino executive Dennis Gomes and real estate developer Morris Bailey about a possible sale of the casinos.

Hickey said the Gomes group submitted a formal bid for the company, but he would not discuss specifics, including why it was rejected. He would not say how many other interested parties there were.

New York-based fund manager Dune Capital Management LP, which is run by former Goldman Sachs & Co. executives, was also said to be a possible bidder.

Trump Entertainment said it is currently not holding talks with any of the parties that were considering offers but it will continue to explore options.

Robert LaFleur, a casino analyst with Susquehanna International Group, said financial markets have become skittish in recent weeks about financing buyouts, particularly in a market as challenging as Atlantic City.

Three Bear Sterns & Co. analysts wrote that the failure to do a deal „speaks to the fundamental problems inherent in Trump’s properties at present and the difficult operating environment in Atlantic City.“

„We do find it telling that a deal could not be completed despite the 30 percent decrease in shares since“ the company was put up for sale in March.

The company has about USD 1.4 billion in debt that was expected to make any sale difficult.

KeyBanc Capital Markets analysts Dennis Forst and Charles Suh wrote that Trump’s best options now appear to be selling off its casinos one at a time „to strategic regional operators looking for a flagship destination in the second-largest gaming market in the United States.“

They wrote that potential buyers were rumored to be discussing share prices as high as the low USD 20 range before talks ended.

Shares of Trump Entertainment Resorts fell USD 2.09, or 16.6 percent, to close at USD 10.49 after trading as low as USD 10.05 Monday.

In addition to the Taj Mahal, the company operates the Trump Marina Hotel Casino and the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. All three were recently granted new five-year operating licenses by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, which expressed skepticism about rosy financial projections the company made for the next three years.

Last week, the company laid off two executive vice presidents as part of cost cutting moves and said it would not fill either position. Let go were Paul B. Keller, who oversaw design and construction, and Virginia McDowell, its chief information officer.

The moves followed the departure of former CEO James Perry, who was replaced by Mark Juliano.

The company, like all 11 Atlantic City casinos, has been hurt by competition from slots parlors in Pennsylvania and New York, as well as the implementation of a partial smoking ban in mid-April.

It also will face further competition in coming years from two new large casinos nearby on the Boardwalk.

One, by the Morgan Stanley investment firm to be operated by Revel Entertainment, is planned for land near the Showboat Casino-Hotel.

The former Sands Casino Hotel is to be razed this fall to make way for another new casino to be built by Pinnacle Entertainment.

Also in the planning stages is a third smaller „boutique“ casino to be built by Curtis Bashaw, the former chairman of New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and Wally Barr, the former chief executive officer of Caesar’s Entertainment, on land near the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort.