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N.J. regulators to include staffing in weighing Tropicana license

Nov 20, 2007 4:17 AM

It was a case of win some-lose some for Columbia Sussex Corp. as the privately-held company prepared for this week’s hearings before the New Jersey Casino Control Commission which is deciding whether to renew the operating license of the Tropicana Casino and Resort.

The company received a favorable ruling when the commission denied a request by UNITE-HERE Local 54 to intervene in the hearing as an interested party. The union has been battling management at the Tropicana over job cuts and working conditions.

However, it was dealt a setback when the commission refused to ignore concerns about staffing levels at the casino in making its licensing decision. Whether the commission is correct in its decision that it can take into account such factors as staffing levels will be further debated.

Despite winning only half a loaf in the commission decisions, the union was pleased with the way things were going with the licensing hearings.

"These two rulings show that the commission is taking the concerns we have raised about staffing and cleanliness very seriously. We look forward to vigorously presenting our case at the hearing," said Bob McDevitt, union president.

Columbia Sussex has been operating the hotel/casino since it acquired Aztar Corp. late last year. At the time, the commission granted the operator a temporary license. Since then, the operators have been strongly criticized for major cutbacks in staffing.

The Tropicana issue has even reached the legislature.

Last week, Senate President Richard Codey wrote to the commission, "I am troubled by the situation at the Tropicana and its impact on the future of Atlantic City and the state of New Jersey. It is the commission’s responsibility to require casino licensees to maintain casino hotel facilities."

The licensing hearing is expected to last two weeks.

Columbia Sussex also operates the Tropicana Hotel/Casino on the Las Vegas Strip as well as other smaller properties in Nevada.

Florida deal

A gaming compact signed by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Seminole Indians has struck fear in the hearts of pari-mutuel operators in South Florida.

The deal permits the Seminoles to convert their existing casinos into Las Vegas-style gaming emporiums while the state pockets at least $100 million from the gaming activities.

Left out in the cold are the slot operators in Broward County and the dog and horse tracks in the other parts of the state who already are suffering from the competition presented by the Seminoles’ seven casinos.

Izzy Havenick, whose family owns two dog tracks in South Florida, said the compact, "is a slap in the face of the entrepreneurial spirit of Florida" and the hundreds of employees at the various tracks.

The track operators may find comfort in Tallahassee where some members of the legislature believe that only the lawmakers have the constitutional authority to approve a gaming compact with the tribes.

However, they will have to overcome the financial benefits that will be derived from the Seminole casinos.

City bail out

When Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City, he called the off-track betting operation, "the only bookmaker in America that loses money."

Now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he won’t stand for any more bailouts and has demanded that the N.Y. City Off-Track Betting Corp. president come up with a plan for shutting down the 60 horse wagering branches.

The city politicians have been mis-characterizing the off-track betting shops. Actually, they do make money but the state law mandates that it must hand over to the state all of its money, leaving nothing for the city.

Bloomberg has been conferring with state officials trying to find a way to keep the shops open. All it would take, it seems, is for the state to give up some of the profits, an unlikely occurrence based on previous attempts by the city to reconfigure the gaming formula.

THE INSIDER: Efforts by the Massachusetts Senate to let the voters decide by referendum whether they want to permit three casino licenses to be issued has failed.

But in Maryland, legislators have finally approved a referendum in November 2008 to decide whether it should copy adjoining states in permitting slot machine gambling.

Mount Airy Casino Resort has become Pennsylvania’s first hotel to feature a slots-only casino.

Foundation work has begun on the old Bethlehem Steel site in Bethlehem, Penn. which will become the Sands Bethworks Casino, to be operated by Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS).

Don Barden says he expects to break ground on his Pittsburgh, Penn., casino within a month.

Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut is appealing the recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board that permits its employees to unionize.

Trump Entertainment Resorts Ins. (TRMP) says it will receive a $34 million repayment of its property taxes from Atlantic City. If the state’s tax court approves, Trump will receive $12 million in cash and $22 million in tax credits.

MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGM) and Dubai World have completed its previously announced 50/50 joint venture transaction in the CityCenter development in Las Vegas. With its contribution of $2.96 billion, Dubai World receives a 50% equity interest in CityCenter.

Also, the MGM Grand Casino at Foxwoods is scheduled to open in the spring of 2008. In conjunction with the opening, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe said it is planning a $55 million renovation of its existing resort complex.

Wynn Resorts Ltd. (WYNN) has appointed Philippe Caretti as senior vice president and general manager of resort operations.

Nevada Gold & Casinos Inc. (UWN) has agreed to sell its 43% interest in the Isle of Capri Black Hawk Hotel/Casino to Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. (ISLE). The sale price is $64.6 million.

Scientific Games Corp. (SGMS) has acquired a 50% interest in the ownership of Guard Libang, a provider of instant lottery tickets in China.