Suitors line up for Tropicana Casino

At least a half-dozen potential buyers have contacted state casino regulators about purchasing the Tropicana Casino and Resort, and a sale could take place within weeks, the head of the state Casino Control Commission said last week.

Linda Kassekert appeared at a news conference at the Tropicana with former state Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein, the interim trustee who’s overseeing the casino until a buyer can be found, and Tropicana President Mark Giannantonio, who will stay on to run its day-to-day operations until the sale.

„I’m pleased to see that it is open and full and running,“ Kassekert said at a poinsettia-bedecked podium just off the casino floor, surrounded by Tropicana workers and curious gamblers. „The Tropicana is in great hands.“

After meeting with Tropicana and casino commission staff on Friday, Stein decided Giannantonio was the best choice to stay and manage the nuts and bolts of the operation.

„I’m here, I’m staying on, I’m running the property,“ Giannantonio told The Associated Press Friday morning before the news conference was scheduled. „I intend to work with Justice Stein and I look forward to a very, very smooth transition. My obligation is to keep things going.“

The Casino Control Commission stripped the Tropicana of its license on Wednesday after deciding its owner; Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex Corp. was incapable of running the type of „first class facility“ required under state law. That forces a sale of the property, which includes New Jersey’s largest hotel with 2,129 rooms.

„Just from the number of people who has reached out to me and to the justice, I don’t think it’s going to take all that long,“ Kassekert said. „I would say weeks. I’ve heard already from a half-dozen interested parties.“ The commission and Stein plan to devise a process next week for interested parties to make their interest known and present formal offers.

No names of potential suitors were mentioned at the news conference. But Baltimore-based developer The Cordish Company told The Associated Press on Thursday it was eyeing the Tropicana, saying, „It fits perfectly with our Atlantic City strategy and existing holdings in Atlantic City.“

Cordish built The Walk, a USD 110 million retail-entertainment district in the heart of Atlantic City between the convention center and casinos.

Other potential suitors include Penn National Gaming; Dennis Gomes, the Tropicana’s former chief executive who oversaw the property when it was owned by Aztar Corp.; and Pinnacle Entertainment, which lost a bidding war for Aztar to Columbia Sussex, but has since started its own USD 1.5 billion casino project here.

Columbia Sussex is appealing the license denial, but acknowledges it may be forced to file for bankruptcy protection soon if it can’t overturn the decision or work out a new deal with its lenders, who could demand accelerated repayment of their loans as soon as next Wednesday.

In November, the Tropicana endured one of the worst months any Atlantic City casino has ever experienced. More than two weeks of license renewal hearings dredged up embarrassing details about problems with cleanliness, staffing, service and the general competence of its former owners.

The steady drumbeat of bad publicity helped drive down revenue a staggering 21.1 percent for the month. „We were expecting to be down 10 to 12 percent, but then the firestorm of bad publicity hit that killed us,“ Giannantonio told the AP before the hearing. „I can track it almost to the exact days that certain articles came out.

Later, he drew applause from workers and customers alike when he laid out what he hoped will be the new dominant message going out about the Tropicana: „Yes, we’re open. Yes, we’re vibrant. Yes, our employees are ready to serve.“