Tropicana overseers tight-lipped on bidders

March 18, 2008 4:20:30 PM PDT
Like any good gambler, the folks overseeing the sale of the Tropicana Casino Hotel are keeping their cards close to the vest when it comes to who's bidding for the place. Monday was the deadline for interested parties to submit bids for the casino, which includes New Jersey's largest hotel at 2,129 rooms.

Gary Stein, the retired state Supreme Court justice overseeing the sale in his capacity as trustee, would only say that he had received "multiple expressions of interest" in the Tropicana.

He would not say how many bids had been submitted, saying financial and legal advisers want to maintain the strictest possible confidentiality surrounding the bidding process.

"We are very pleased with the level of interest that has been expressed by potential buyers, notwithstanding the uncertainties in the financial markets," Stein said.

There is no legal obligation to reveal the interested parties.

Stein's remarks came just two days after investment bank giant Bear Stearns, which had been helping handle solicitations to prospective buyers, was sold at a fraction of its value due to exposure to risky loans.

Stein said he and his advisers will review the bids and conduct on-site tours of the property soon.

"I am encouraged with the progress of the sale process so far and we are now moving into the second stage," Stein said. "There is, of course, much more work to be done before there can be a definitive transaction."

Stein has said he would like to have a contract signed with a buyer by the end of April.

So far, three bidders have become publicly known. They include the company that owns the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort and Resorts Atlantic City, and a group headed by a New York developer said it would offer $950 million.

The Press of Atlantic City reported in Tuesday's newspapers that a Baltimore developer teamed with a former Tropicana chief executive to make a third bid for the casino. Officials with the Cordish Co. did not return a request for comment, although they said several months ago they were interested in the property.

Cordish would partner with Dennis Gomes, the former Tropicana boss when it was owned by Aztar Corp., the newspaper reported. Gomes was traveling Tuesday and unavailable for comment, an aide said.

Another party which had previously expressed interest was the Mohegan Indian tribe, which already runs one of the nation's most successful casinos in Connecticut. Jeffrey Hartmann, CEO of the Mohegan Sun Casino did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The Tropicana was put up for sale in December when the state Casino Control Commission stripped its owners, Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex Corp., of their casino license, citing a year of poor performance and regulatory compliance by management.