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Arnold M. Knightly

General manager at Tropicana quits post

16 April 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The general manager of the Tropicana has left the property three months after his arrival.

Larry Johnson tendered his resignation two weeks before his final day on April 6.

Columbia Sussex Corp. Chief Financial Officer Richard FitzPatrick emphasized Friday that Johnson decided to leave for personal reasons.

"Obviously, we're disappointed with Larry's departure," FitzPatrick said. "We've got strong people already there in place and we feel like things are well under control."

Johnson could not be reached for comment.

His resignation follows a string of layoffs and voluntary departures that has trimmed the staff by a "few hundred" since Columbia Sussex took over the property in January, according to someone familiar with the situation.

Assistant General Manager Penny Baratta has been named acting general manager until a new general manager is named.

Baratta started as a dealer at the Tropicana in 1979 and was promoted to her current post in January. She had previously been Tropicana's executive director of table games.

Baratta is sharing day-to-day operations with Mike Smith, Columbia Sussex's regional vice president of operations.

Smith oversees the company's Nevada operations, which include Westin Casuarina locally and four other properties in the state, from his office at the Tropicana.

"Over time we'll determine what the management structure on a go forward basis," said FitzPatrick, who works out of the Columbia Sussex corporate offices in Fort Mitchell, Ky., outside Cincinnati. "I think we're very well covered right now."

Columbia Sussex owns and operates the Westin Casuarina and the Tropicana in Las Vegas, as well as four other gaming properties in the state. The company owns 13 gaming properties nationwide.

The Kentucky-based hospitality company became the owner of the 34-acre Tropicana and three other casinos in January upon the closing of a $2.75 billion buyout of Aztar Corp.

Johnson was officially announced as the new general manager in January replacing Gary Van Hettinga who had been the president general manager since January 2005. He was the property's 32nd general manager in 50 years.

Johnson was brought over from the company's Laughlin property, River Palms, where he had held the same position.

Johnson had previously worked for Harrah's Las Vegas, Mirage Resorts, Black Hawk Gaming and Development Co., and Ameristar Casinos before joining Columbia Sussex.

"We have a high degree of respect for him or we wouldn't have brought him there in the first place," FitzPatrick said. "People choose to leave, but we've got strong people still there."