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Gaming Guru

Joe Weinert
 

Atlantic City Roundup

3 November 2003

ATLANTIC CITY -- The future of a $245 million expansion at Tropicana Casino and Resort remains in uncertain this week after one end of an under-construction parking garage collapsed and killed four workers and injured 21.

The south end of the top level of a 12-story garage broke Thursday morning as if on a hinge, collapsing the five stories below it. Authorities immediately closed Tropicanaís 604-room West Tower hotel and the existing parking garage on which it sits, fearing that an adjacent 100-foot concrete wall left unsupported by the collapse could smash into them.

"We will find out what went wrong, it will get fixed and we will get this expansion open," said Paul Rubeli, chief executive of Tropicana parent Aztar Corp. "It's just that at this point we do not know what went wrong and we donít know how long it will take to find out what went wrong."

Police tape around a 10-block area has severely limited access to Tropicana, but the casino hotel remains open and all operations are running normally, except the closed West Tower and garage. Trop's valet parking service is open.

"We've got about 1,400 (parking) spaces available at various surface lots. Employees and cops are out there directing them. People are still coming. It's kind of amazing to me," said Dennis Gomes, Aztar's president of resort operations.

The Atlantic City Hilton, located five blocks away, came to Tropicana's aid by offering its bus terminal, employee shuttle bus and an entire surface parking lot.

The collapsed garage was part of an integrated expansion that included 2,400 parking spaces, 502 hotel rooms, convention space and an Old Havana-themed 200,000-square-foot retail, dining and entertainment complex called The Quarter. It had been scheduled to open in March.

"You can be sure we and our contractors will be working hard to resume construction as soon as possible. So, please, do not ask us to speculate about the revised construction schedule," Aztar President Robert Haddock said.

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While other Atlantic City casinos reported third-quarter modest cash flow declines due to the opening of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the Trump casinos got hammered.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization fell 36 percent at Trump Plaza, 30 percent at Trump Marina and 26 percent at Trump Taj Mahal.

Overall, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts reported cash flow of $73.4 million, down 28 percent, on net revenue of $309 million, down 10 percent.

Analysts questioned whether the Trump Atlantic City subsidiary, which issued $1.3 billion in junk bonds backed by the Taj Mahal and Plaza, would have enough cash to make a $73.1 million semiannual interest payment due May 1.

"Forecasts, as we look into the future, are always fuzzy, but whenever we look at where our operations are, we feel we can make the payment," Chief Financial Officer Frank McCarthy said.

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Caesars Atlantic City's fall from No. 1 in table games has cost 80 employees their jobs.

"In response to competitive conditions in the Atlantic City marketplace, Park Place Entertainment is re-evaluating staffing levels across its Atlantic City properties,î Caesars spokesman Brian Cahill said.

All 80 job cuts came in Caesars' table games department, which last year led Atlantic City casinos in table revenue at $178.7 million. In the first three months since Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened in July, Caesarsí table business fell by 16 percent over the previous yearís level.

Borgata now leads the pack in table revenue.

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A small-time cheat expelled from Atlantic City casinos a quarter-century ago wants a piece of the action again.

Allen Perlman, 56, said heís been punished long enough after being caught past-posting blackjack bets in 1978, three weeks after Resorts International opened the casino era on the East Coast.

Perlman, of Allentown, Pa., said he has gambled regularly without incident at Mandalay Bay and the Venetian in Las Vegas and has complied with the New Jersey Casino Control Commissionís exclusion order.

"It is clear that Mr. Perlman is not a threat to the integrity of casino gaming in New Jersey," his lawyer, John Donnelly.

The matter was referred to a hearing. The last time the commission removed a living person from the Exclusion List was in 1992. The list now has 168 names.

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Bally's Atlantic City paid $20,000 in fines for allowing 19-year-old women to play slots in separate incidents last year. The legal gambling age in New Jersey is 21.

In one of the instances, Bally's did not discover the womanís age until she went to claim a $1,600 jackpot. Ballyís had to forfeit the jackpot amount.

Forfeited winnings from gamblers prohibited from playing in a casino are split between the state Casino Revenue Fund and compulsive-gambling programs.

(Joe Weinert covers the gaming industry for The Press of Atlantic City. He can be reached at jweinert@pressofac.com.)