Ex-MGM official a nice fit for Vegas Tropicana

Mar 31, 2009 5:05 PM
Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener |

Yemenidjian expected to upgrade hotel

Alex Yemenidjian appears ready to make an initial investment of some $250 million to improve the beleaguered Las Vegas Tropicana.

The former top assistant to Kirk Kerkorian at MGM has acquired at least 40 percent of the Trop’s bonds and used the muscle this gave him to wrest control of the resort away from Tropicana Entertainment during a Bankruptcy Court hearing last week. This behind-the-scenes drama was first reported in GamingToday.

The fate of the Atlantic City Tropicana awaits the outcome of a separate on-going action there that began in December 2007 as the Casino Control Commission took the license of former owner William Yung III.

Neither Yemenidjian nor gaming officials were available to discuss the details of the pending transfer of power (the usual regulatory sign-off is necessary) but there is no reason to believe this will be anything more than a formality.

Senior gaming industry sources familiar with what appears to be happening say Yemenidjian’s ownership group has plans to invest about $250 million, bringing the property up to a level that will permit realistic competition with its much newer Strip neighbors at one of the busiest intersections anywhere. Yemenidjian and his mostly Canadian financial backers were previously unsuccessful in bidding for the last casino license in Illinois.

Priorities at the Tropicana include taking the casino out to the street, to the corner of Tropicana Avenue and the Strip, much like what was done at the Flamingo. The other priority will involve updating many of the nearly 2,000 rooms that have not been touched in a number of years as previous owners did a lot of cost-cutting and spending in Atlantic City.

Yemenidjian severed his most recent connection with the casino industry when he resigned from the MGM Mirage board in June 2005. He had previously headed the MGM film studio until its sale. He was president of MGM Grand (the resort) during its early years and had been a top assistant to Kerkorian through a number of earlier deals including one of Mr. K’s early efforts to seek an influential position in one of the Detroit auto companies.

Recent pressures on MGM relative to the CityCenter development probably also sparked speculation among some followers of the company that he might be returning to a position of influence there. But that sounds like some of the same low grade speculation that has former MGM chairman Terry Lanni coming out of retirement to lend a hand.

Neither is likely to happen.

But Yemenidjian’s pending take-over at the long-troubled Tropicana is a fact. It arguably has one of the best locations on the entire LV Strip but former owners have been busy elsewhere for years as an ever-improving line-up of much newer hotels and casinos left the Tropicana in their metaphorical dust.

This past weekend the Trop lopped off one of the last big reasons for visiting the half-century-old property and closed the long-running Folies Bergere French import that had helped define the Tropicana’s uniqueness.