Trump no more: Marina becomes Golden Nugget AC

AP News
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Posted: May 23, 2011 4:52 PM
Trump no more: Marina becomes Golden Nugget AC

In Atlantic City, all that's golden is not Trump.

New Jersey casino regulators approved the sale of Trump Marina Hotel Casino on Monday to the owners of the Golden Nugget casinos in Nevada for $38 million _ about a tenth of what the property was expected to fetch just three years ago.

Landry's Inc. has rebranded the casino as the Golden Nugget Atlantic City, a name change that became official with Monday's vote by the Casino Control Commission.

The giant "TRUMP" letters have been removed from the front of the casino, though the top and rear of the casino-hotel still bear Donald Trump's name. A temporary banner proclaiming the casino as the Golden Nugget could be put up as soon as Tuesday, a company spokeswoman said.

Tilman J. Fertitta, the owner of Houston-based Landry's, said he is prepared to pump $150 million into the casino to revive it and make it competitive in Atlantic City's cutthroat market.

"It's exciting to be in the nation's second-largest gaming market, and we're excited to get started on the renovation to let everyone see the changes we have coming," Fertitta told The Associated Press. "Everything's going to be different. We're touching every square foot. We're going to have lots of new restaurants and bars."

Fertitta said he is interested in building a second hotel tower within the next few years to expand the Golden Nugget's 740-room inventory. He said during testimony before the commission that he would be open to working out a deal with MGM Resorts to buy a 14-acre tract of vacant land near the casino to develop, but said afterward he had misspoken, adding he has had no conversations with MGM about the land.

At the Golden Nugget, Landry's plans new bars and lounges, live entertainment, stores and updated rooms and suites. Attractions including the Rush Lounge and a gathering spot called After Hours, a new spa, poker room, race and keno room and a new H2O Pool and Lounge, which will introduce all-season hot tubs and fire pits. On Thursday, the company will open its Chart House restaurant inside the casino.

"We're building a facility here that will compete against anybody else in town," he told the commission. "We promise everybody we will be good citizens here. Hopefully in a few years we'll all look back at this as a good decision for y'all."

Linda Kassekert, the casino commission chairwoman, called the Golden Nugget "a giant step toward a reinvigorated Atlantic City gaming market."

Fertitta said renovations will be completed by December, including a remake of the casino's boxy, institutional facade.

"It is not going to have that hospital look anymore," he said. "It'll look like a totally different building. You will not recognize this property come December."

Work was already under way on the changeover Monday afternoon. About 200 slot machines near the top of the escalators from the parking lot garage were being removed for a restaurant, and prototypes of the newly made-over guest rooms were being left open for guests to wander through and admire. Swatches of colorful new carpeting were laid down in hotel hallways to show what will eventually replace the more drab patterns consisting of tens of thousands of interlocking letter "T"s, beneath the "Trump" name on each room door.

"We have been working on removing everything that says `Trump,' but it's overwhelming," said Amy Chasey, a Golden Nugget spokeswoman.

Fertitta also said the casino will retain the overwhelming majority of the casino's work force of about 1,460, saying "only a very small number" will lose their jobs in the ownership transition. No one will be asked to take pay cuts, he added.

Landry's owns Golden Nugget casinos in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nev. The Atlantic City casino becomes its third.

The deal brings the Golden Nugget brand back to Atlantic City, where it operated in a different building from 1980 to 1987.

The sale leaves Trump Entertainment Resorts, which emerged last summer from its third stint in bankruptcy court, with two Boardwalk casinos _ its flagship trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and the older Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.

Trump Marina is located in the city's marina district, next to the Frank Farley Marina, which is included in the sale, and two of the city's top-performing casinos _ the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and Harrah's Resort Atlantic City. It opened in 1985 as Trump's Castle.

Trump Entertainment has been trying to sell the Marina casino since May 2008, when it struck a deal with Coastal Marina LLC, run by former Donald Trump protege Richard Fields. Fields first agreed to pay $316 million. After the economy tanked, Trump and Coastal Marina agreed to a lower price of $270 million, but the deal fell apart in 2009 over disagreements about the physical condition of the casino.

Coastal claimed that summer that the Trump Marina needs at least $50 million in repairs. Things were so bad, Coastal Marina claimed in a lawsuit, the casino was putting plants under leaky windows and skylights to catch the drips when it rained rather than fix the leaks.

Fertitta said he will operate the Golden Nugget better than Trump Entertainment did.

"What shocked us was there's only one bar right at the front," he said. "It's almost like everything was done not to do business here. It was a big box."

He said Trump Entertainment Resorts paid more attention to its two other casinos than to Trump Marina.

"We will be 100 percent focused on driving business to the Golden Nugget," he said.

In addition to the Golden Nugget casinos, Landry's owns and runs more than 300 stores and restaurants including the Rainforest Cafe and Chart House chains. It also owns the Downtown Aquarium complexes in Houston and Denver, as well as the Kemah Boardwalk, a 50-acre, family-oriented themed entertainment destination outside Houston.