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Gaming Guru

Joe Weinert
 

Atlantic City Roundup

15 March 2004

ATLANTIC CITY -- The conditions were right in February for Atlantic City casinos to post blockbuster revenue gains, and they did not disappoint.

The dozen casinos won $386.3 million from gamblers last month, up 30.1 percent over the same month last year. That marks the industry's biggest monthly percentage gain in 20 years.

Four factors drove the historic gain: An easy comparison to February 2003, when a blizzard ruined the usually high-grossing Presidents Day weekend; the new Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa; an extra Leap Day; and unseasonably warm weather.

When compared to the more normal February 2002, and when subtracting Leap Day, last month's results would show only an 8.6 percent gain – which is slightly below the 9-percent growth rate shown by the industry in three of the last four months.

New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey was preparing a press release to extol his role in helping the casinos achieve 30 percent growth, but quickly scrapped plans when informed by a reporter of the more realistic 8.6 percent figure.

"Nonetheless, the numbers are up and not down, and that's a good thing," said Robert Stewart, spokesman for Atlantic City's largest operator, Caesars Entertainment.

"Results clearly benefited from an easy minus-13.5 percent comparison (to February 2003) and a favorable calendar. Overall, February results were above our expectations of 15 percent to 20 percent growth," Fulcrum Global Partners analyst Joseph Greff told his clients.

Same-store sales improved 14 percent, the first such growth since Borgata opened last summer.

Bally's topped the revenue chart at $54.3 million, up 12.2 percent. Borgata maintained the second spot at $47.9 million. Caesars was third at $40.8 million, up 21.9 percent.

Revenue improved only 1.9 percent at Tropicana, still hurt by the fallout from a major construction accident in October.

The three Trump casinos, who are preparing a financial reorganization, reported a combined revenue gain of 7.8 percent.

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Donald Trump will retreat from his glamorous public persona on Tuesday to begin debt negotiations that could make or break his casino company.

Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts needs bondholders to accept a discount on their $1.8 billion in face-value notes to complete a restructuring that would include a $400 million equity investment by Credit Suisse First Boston.

Although Trump and bondholders have warred over the years, both sides appear to be in a more amiable mood this time around. Both realize that the company, which used 85 percent of its cash flow last year to service debt, has casinos that have fallen years behind their competitors in expansion and upkeep.

"It's in the first inning of the game and I think there is a willingness on both sides to have something that will work," said a major Trump bondholder who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Scott Butera, the Wall Street veteran hired last summer to lead the Trump Hotels restructuring efforts, said his theme in bondholder talks will be improving the company's long-term health.

"My goal is to hear the feedback from the holders and accommodate as much of that as I can. We'd like to have something done by the end of the summer," Butera said.

Trump Hotels will be dealing with two primary bondholder groups: Those who hold $1.3 billion of first mortgage notes backed by Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza, and those who hold $425 million of first mortgage notes backed by Trump Marina and Trump Indiana.

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Resorts Atlantic City has begun position its grand new hotel tower, scheduled to open in June, by offering introductory room rates of $225 – well above the market average of about $90.

The $115 million, 400-room tower will have standard rooms that measure more tan 500 square feet, or about 25 percent larger than the typical room among Atlantic City casino hotels.

Resorts has also begun accepting room reservations online at www.resortsac.com.

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Caesars Entertainment is preparing to leave the Delaware market – but not by choice.

The company said in its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it does not expect Dover Downs to renew its contract with Caesars to manage its slot operations. Caesars has managed the racino since it opened in 1996.

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The three Delaware racetracks reported slot revenue of $53.7 million for the five-week February reporting period, up 27 percent over the similar four-week period last year, based on a comparison of daily averages. The spike was due to an easy comparison to February 2003, which had considerable snow, and the addition of Leap Day this year.

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