Selling the Tropicana not easy

Jun 24, 2008 7:00 PM

by Ray Poirier | How quickly things change when the credit market goes south.

When Aztar Corp. hinted that it might look favorably on a solid offer, bidders jumped at the chance to acquire the company that owned the Tropicana hotel/casinos in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City and several riverboats.

Privately-owned Columbia Sussex won a spirited bidding war and took over the operation in January, 2007 after forking over $2.75 billion.

The honeymoon didnít last a year. By December, 2007, New Jersey gaming regulators cancelled the companyís gaming license and ordered the Tropicana Atlantic City sold. They appointed retired state Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein to find a buyer for the property.

Operating in secrecy, Stein in the weeks following the "For Sale" announcement indicated there were several buyers showing interest in the Trop but no details were given. Last week, the N.J. Casino Control Commission agreed with Stein to scrap "all the bids" he allegedly received and to start anew.

Stein told the regulators the tightening in the credit markets, and Columbia Sussex filing a bankruptcy petition for its subsidiary, Tropicana Entertainment LLC, had thrown the process of finding a buyer for the property into chaos.

These events caused the bidders to "low-ball" their offers, Stein told the regulators. He said he was optimistic that a buyer can be found within the 120 days allotted to him.

Some commissioners went along with the delay but expressed their impatience. One, Chairwoman Linda Kassekert, told Stein she wanted the place sold even if he didnít get the highest possible bid.

Despite Steinís insistence that there were active bidders available to take over the property, recent failures of proposed buyouts of major companies because of lack of funding have placed a cloud over the project.