GM of Imperial Palace loses job after 28 years

Oct 14, 2008 5:00 PM

Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener |

Longtime Imperial Palace GM Ed Crispell finally saw his job swept away after some 28 years by the avalanche of fast-moving economic events as Harrah’s continues cutting costs.

Crispell was not available for comment but sources familiar with what happened, said the IP has been put under the supervision of Don Marrandino, who now presumably also oversees the former Barbary Coast.

Crispell was one of the genuinely nice guys in the business who also demonstrated exceptional survival skills, working for a number of years for the late IP founder and developer Ralph Engelstad. It was Crispell who sold Engelstad on the idea that made the IP a national leader and winner of awards for its willingness to hire the disabled.

Crispell and other IP employees had little reason to suspect they would be around this long when Harrah’s paid $370 million in August 2005 for the 17.5 acres on which the hotel sits between Harrah’s and the Flamingo.

The expectation then – and Harrah’s executives, did nothing to discourage this thinking – was that the IP would quickly be razed and the land put to whatever use Harrah’s had in mind as it planned a connected family of resorts.

But the life of the IP continued to be extended as Harrah’s also bought the Barbary and Crispell was suddenly running two casinos as it became apparent that the big development was not going to occur as quickly as first believed.

Side show doesn’t end at the AC Trop

The value of all things associated with the Atlantic City Tropicana – not counting attorney fees – has declined, thanks in large part to the damage inflicted by the raging economic crisis on borrowing power.

The Baltimore-based Cordish Company has offered $700 million in cash and notes. Its all-cash offer is $575 million. That’s a big come-down from estimates earlier this year of a billion-dollar selling price.

Business is down, the numbers are down. The ripple effect is everywhere. I wonder how far this will go.

Which brings us to the events of mid-June when New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram charged three former Tropicana marketing executives with second degree counts of theft. The three included John Conklin who was working as v-p of relationship marketing at the Borgata at the time of the announcement from Milgram’s office.

Remember the details?

Conklin and two others, including Justin Litterelle, most recently a marketing executive at the Bellagio, had allegedly left the Tropicana with lists containing the names of more than 20,000 rated customers and their gambling histories. Their thinking three years ago was that the lists would help them get other jobs elsewhere as they prepared to bail out at the Tropicana as the sale to Yung’s company was developing.

Milgram said with what seemed to be a straight face back in June that the list taken by the three was valued at more than $100 million. Such proprietary information, Milgram tsk-tsked, represents "one of the most valuable assets" of any company.

But look at what’s happened in three years. That hundred-million-dollar list … I wonder what its real value is in today’s economic climate: "A lot less than it was," laughed a casino executive who could afford a light-hearted attitude based on the fact he has nothing to do with the case.

Maybe the case against the three will be bargained down to a misdemeanor as all the Tropicana-related numbers continue to shrink.

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The crisis of confidence that has stalled consumer spending and put a big chill on the willingness of financial institutions to loan money are not the only issues getting lots of attention.

November ballot issues may have a lot to do with the likely shape of deals still to come or not come.

Voters in Missouri will determine whether the state’s $500 loss limit is erased. It represents an arbitrary ceiling that has limited both capital spending and the ability of gamblers to risk as much as many of them would like.

Penn National has an eye on slot machine initiatives in both Maryland and Ohio. Slots in these states could impact a couple of Penn’s most significant markets if voters give their approval. Penn also hopes voters in Jefferson County, W. Va., will approve putting table games at Penn’s Charles Town racino.

The eventual opening of stand-alone slot parlors in Pennsylvania will impact Atlantic City, as will the possibility of a total smoking ban in Atlantic City. Smoking on casino floors is already limited and the September figures that saw Atlantic City casino revenues dip more than 15 percent. But the City Council there is a week or two away from the second reading of an ordinance that would delay the implementation of a total smoking ban in casinos

There is more at stake than an ability to get financing.