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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson

Jeff Simpson on why Trop workers are not in partying mood as resort marks 50th

11 April 2007

Please pardon Tropicana workers if they aren't feeling festive despite last week's 50th anniversary of the run-down resort's opening.

They are suffering from the job insecurity that accompanies new Trop owner Columbia Sussex Corp.'s meat-ax approach to staffing, which has resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs in Las Vegas, almost 1,000 at the Tropicana in Atlantic City and a couple of hundred at its riverboat casino in Evansville, Ind.

I've fielded dozens of calls from worried and angry Tropicana workers, not to mention a few angry calls from employees and former workers at the Ramada Express, the Laughlin casino Columbia Sussex acquired when it bought the Tropicana's former parent company.

In February I warned that signs were not good for the Trop's pending Culinary contract renegotiation, and conditions at the company's properties have deteriorated since .

The Culinary's top Las Vegas official, D. Taylor, told me Friday that the company's slash-and-burn management style has him worried about the Tropicana and negotiations with Columbia Sussex.

"There could be a strike," Taylor said. "Based on what we've seen from them, I wouldn't be surprised. I'm very concerned."

Taylor said he's asked the company to begin negotiations, but has yet to get a response .

Based on what I've seen of Columbia Sussex's Nevada properties, which include the Westin in Las Vegas, two Lake Tahoe resorts and the River Palms in Laughlin, the privately held hotel company has a lot to learn about the casino resort business.

• • •

Now that Harrah's Entertainment shareholders have approved the $90- a-share takeover bid from private equity firms Apollo Management and Texas Pacific Group, I believe the deal will have a couple of interesting secondary effects.

Although it's too early to tell whether the new owners will be as union-friendly as past management , it would be a major surprise if Harrah's management chooses to play tough with the Culinary during this year's contract negotiations while the takeover deal waits for regulatory approval.

A second interesting result is that the huge debt the owners will be taking on will almost certainly delay the long-awaited implosions of the Imperial Palace and one of Bally's two towers.

In fact, the Culinary's Taylor told me that, before the takeover, the union wasn't keen on asking Harrah's permission to grant card-check neutrality for the Imperial Palace, seeing as the property probably would have closed within a year.

Now the Culinary plans to ask Harrah's for card-check neutrality at the IP, and Taylor thinks they'll get it. "It shouldn't be a problem," he said.

If the Culinary can organize the Imperial Palace, that would leave the Venetian as the only nonunion resort on the Strip.

• • •

A few months ago I wrote about how I thought the NBA All-Star Game was almost always a lame contest, and how the poor quality of the game didn't justify its mammoth hype.

That's how I feel about today's Champ race, the Vegas Grand Prix. I don't know the drivers, and I'll bet nine out of 10 Las Vegans don't either. An open-wheel race through city streets is a great idea that would have worked well back in the days of Al Unser, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt.

I'll be shocked if the race attracts anywhere close to the 150,000 folks event organizers predict.