AC casinos playing 'Let's make a (new) deal

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - December 1, 2008 Trump Entertainment Resorts became the second casino operator here to say it would not make a scheduled loan payment while it tries to work out new terms with its lenders. Last month, Resorts Atlantic City did the same thing, and more could follow.

It's the latest proof that Atlantic City's casinos, once thought to be recession-proof, are subject to the same financial pressures affecting the rest of America. In fact, one gambling industry analyst thinks as many as five of Atlantic City's 11 casinos could file for some form of bankruptcy protection in 2009.

"The economic picture nationally is causing gaming companies from west to east some severe problems," said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group. "Even some of the titans of the industry are having difficulty shoring up their balance sheets."

Weinert said it is possible the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino could end up filing for Chapter 11 protection. (The company is selling Trump Marina Hotel Casino to New York developer Richard Fields, a former Trump protege.)

He said other possible candidates for Chapter 11 filings include the two casinos that Colony RIH Holdings, Inc. owns - Resorts and the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort. And the Tropicana Casino and Resort is likely to be sold in a bankruptcy court auction, possibly before the end of this year.

Atlantic City is entering a phase that some of the nation's largest casino companies are already well into. The Las Vegas Sands Corp. last month suspended several projects and announced agreements to raise more than $2 billion in new capital, including new funding from its billionaire chief executive, Sheldon Adelson.

Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which owns four Atlantic City casinos among its 40 nationwide, is also restructuring its debt.

And the head of the American Gaming Association said last month that smaller casino operators might be less likely to survive the current downturn. Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said banks are unwilling to lend money at favorable interest rates to build projects, and consumers are spending less on gambling and entertainment at casinos.

In a statement issued Friday, Trump Entertainment said it will delay making a $53.1 million bond interest payment that was due on Monday, and will use a 30-day grace period to try to negotiate with its lenders to restructure its debt.

The company said it cannot guarantee it will be able to reach a new deal with the lenders on about $1.25 billion worth of bond debt.

"We're just doing what many others are doing in this time of economic mess," Donald Trump told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday. Asked if it is possible the company could seek Chapter 11 protection if talks on restructuring its debt fail, Trump said, "I don't know."

Trump is chairman and the largest stockholder of the company, but no longer runs it.

The company's stock was trading for about 28 cents a share early Monday afternoon, down nearly 10 percent. At this time last year, it was near $6 a share.

The situation is much the same at Resorts Atlantic City, the city's first casino which opened in 1978.

Resorts' parent company revealed in a filing last month with state casino regulators that it was unable to make its November interest payment to its lenders "due to the extreme impact of the current economic conditions." The amount of the required payment was not specified.

The company said it is negotiating with the lender, Column Financial Inc., over a course of action. The two-year, $10 million loan is backed by a mortgage on Resorts.

According to Colony's filing, the entire $10 million loan could become payable at once if the company can't reach a deal with the lender. It was not clear whether the privately held company has, or can raise, the cash to pay off such a demand.

A Colony spokesman declined comment Monday.

Should one or more casinos file for Chapter 11 protection, Weinert said customers would probably not notice much different, at least at first. They would continue to operate while restructuring their finances.

But things don't figure to improve for at least the next year or two, he added.

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