Bear Stearns mess not likely to impact Tropicana sale

March 17, 2008 6:22:05 PM PDT
The meltdown of Bear Stearns, the Wall Street investment banking titan that has been handling prospective buyers for the Tropicana Casino and Resort, will not affect the casino's sale, people involved in the process said Monday. The nation's fifth-largest investment bank was sold over the weekend to JPMorgan Chase & Co. for a fraction of its value due to its exposure to risky loans. Bear Stearns, which closed Friday at $30 a share, was sold for a staggering $2 a share.

But its spectacular demise is not expected to affect the sale of the Tropicana, which suffered its own meltdown last year as its former owners were stripped of their casino license by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

Gary Stein, the retired state Supreme Court justice overseeing the Tropicana's sale, said the sale is moving forward; bids that had been solicited and supervised by Bear Stearns are due to be submitted to the judge by Monday night, although a few stragglers may arrive early Tuesday.

About 25 potential buyers had expressed interest in buying the Tropicana.

"What has happened will not materially affect the sale process," Stein said. "Bear Stearns is continuing to operate and we are moving ahead with the process."

Likewise, Daniel Heneghan, a spokesman for the casino commission, said it does not expect Bear Stearns' woes to affect the Tropicana bidding.

For one thing, much of the firm's more important work in terms of lining up potential buyers - and weeding out ones that do not appear to be serious contenders - has already been done.

If the casino sells for the $1 billion or so that experts estimate it will fetch, that would mean about $6 million to $7 million in fees for Bear Stearns, a sum that looked inconsequential in January when they were retained, but looms much larger now.

JPMorgan announced Sunday night that it would acquire Bear Stearns for $236.2 million in a deal that was fast-tracked by the federal government to avoid a bankruptcy. The price represents roughly 1 percent of what the investment bank was worth just 16 days ago.

The Federal Reserve and the U.S. government swiftly approved the all-stock buyout to complete the deal before world markets opened. The Fed also essentially made the takeover risk-free by saying it would guarantee up to $30 billion of Bear's most troubled assets: mortgage securities that have plummeted in value.