New bidder for Trop?

With much, but not all of the site work done, I’m taking a bold leap back into the gaming news blogosphere today.

I haven’t heard much about this possible bidder for the Columbia Sussex casino empire, but that might just be because I’ve spent more time poring over css style sheets than reading the news. And before you ask, I’m not related to Gerald Schwartz. From ReportonBusiness.com:

Onex Corp. is ready to place a bet on the U.S. gambling industry, with struggling casino icon Tropicana Entertainment LLC a potential target for Gerald Schwartz’s buyout firm.

Onex has top-end help in its hunt for a gambling deal, teaming up with Alex Yemenidjian, the former president of Kirk Kerkorian’s MGM Grand casino empire. The firm is employing the same strategy in another beat-up business, building products, where Onex has joined with Masonite International Corp. founder Philip Orsino to seek deals.

In gambling, the focus isn’t just on the neon and flash of the Las Vegas strip, where the Tropicana is a well-known name in lights, but in more out-of-the-way places. Onex made a bid for Gateway Casinos Income Fund, which runs gambling operations in Western Canada, but fell short in that 2007 takeover battle.

Onex eyes move into gambling

I wouldn’t exactly call Columbia Sussex a “casino icon,” but what do I know?

Onex is a private equity company:

We also pursue opportunities to create value by putting a portion of Onex’ substantial cash resources to work in additional asset classes that we believe will generate superior returns. Through Onex Real Estate Partners, our acquisition partnership with a team of highly experienced industry professionals, we are investing in high-quality commercial and multi-unit residential real estate. We may invest in other asset classes where we believe we can achieve appropriate returns and where the activities can lead to acquisition opportunities.

I wonder if the US/Canadian exchange rate would make this a good bet for Onex? At the very least, TropEnt owns some pretty valuable real estate on the Strip.

Luxor getting darker?

The Tropicana’s woes might be the Luxor’s gain. The pyramid on the Strip is picking up two exhibits that as Columbia Sussex’s flagship is taking on water (allegedly). From the LVRJ:

Luxor is picking up two nongaming attractions from the Tropicana.

Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions announced Tuesday it signed a 10-year agreement with the Luxor to covert 50,000 square feet of the resort’s atrium level into exhibition space for “Bodies … The Exhibition” and “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.” Both shows are now on display at the Tropicana. No dates were announced as to when the shows would be relocated.

Since last year, MGM Mirage, which owns Luxor, has been renovating the pyramid-themed resort named for the historic Egyptian city, adding several restaurants and nightclubs. Luxor President Felix Rappaport said last year the atrium level would also be remodeled.

ReviewJournal.com – Business – Two nongaming attractions now at Tropicana will be displayed at Luxor

My biggest misgiving about the Luxor (besides my “we were slaves in Pharaoh’s Egypt” heritage) has always been the funereal aspect of the place. Themed casinos are supposed to be about fun, something that Jay Sarno absolutely nailed: ancient Rome (in the popular imagination at least) is decadent and fun. A circus is fun. An Egyptian king’s tomb…not exactly my idea of good times.

When I go into the Luxor, I often think of Rorshach in The Watchmen talking about his reaction to Ozymandias’s Egyptian-themed headquarters–he’s overpowered by his morbid surroundings, by the Egyptians’ death obsession. From chapter 10:

Recognize dog-headed Anubis bust. Anubis, watched over dead. Whole culture death-fixated, obsessively securing their tombs against intruders…
Ancient pharaohs looked forward to the end of the world: believed cadavers would rise, reclaim hearts from golden jars…Understand now why always mistrusted fascination with relics and dead kings…in final analysis, it’s us or them.

But people come to Las Vegas to concentrate on life, on the here and now. That might be one of the reasons for the success of the Mirage, way back in 1989. A volcano is dynamic. A rainforest is always changing. It’s a celebration of life continuing. I think that, on some psychological level, many visitors identify with that. A pyramid, on the other hand, is unchanging, and a reminder of our own mortality.

It seems like the latest round of renovations and additions have been designed to make the pyramid more fun, more carefree. So adding two exhibits focusing on death and tragedy seems to be a step in the wrong direction.

I’m sure that there are great business reasons for bringing them in…it will get bodies in the door (pun, unfortunately, intended). But could this be a missed opportunity? If they are really trying to take the Luxor away from its museum-with-slots roots, are these exhibits really the answer?

Positive press at last!

That must be the sentiment in Columbia Sussex’s executive offices today, if they read the Houston Chronicle:

A wealthy casino operator is defending an eye-catching $1 million contribution to a political group that worked to elect a pro-gambling governor in Kentucky.

William Yung III, who heads Crestview Hills-based Columbia Sussex Corp., has essentially placed a huge bet that newly elected Gov. Steve Beshear will be able to get the state’s long-standing prohibition against casinos lifted.

Casino mogul goes all-in for Kentucky support | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle

Granted, the story actually isn’t that positive–after all, it’s rare that business owners are lauded for their political contributions, no matter how heart-felt they might be.

But check out the description of Yung as a “wealthy casino owner.” Usually when you read about him, it’s as the head of the “embattled” casino operator. And how wealthy can he be if his company’s trying delay paying a fine in New Jersey?

I don’t usually do this, but here’s some advice for Local 54 back in AC: if you really want to break Columbia Sussex’s wagon, email this post to Casino Control Commission chairwoman Linda Kasskert. That should stir the pot a little.

A new day at the Trop

No, the Tropicana didn’t sign Celine Dion. Instead, in the best AC tradition, the casino is launching a new advertising campaign to convince visitors that there’s no place for squalor and surliness in the court-appointed conservator-run casino. From the AC Press:

Tropicana Casino and Resort is overhauling its battered image with the help of a new, upbeat advertising campaign that invites customers to “experience the difference.”

The $1 million publicity push includes print advertisements, mailings, billboards and a 30-second television spot that begins airing today in the Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey markets.

Tropicana’s management hopes customers will give the casino a second chance following a turbulent 12 months of mass job cuts, lagging service and unsanitary conditions under the previous owner, Columbia Sussex Corp.

“We want to get away from a period of time when it was tumultuous, and say to our customers, ‘When you come to Tropicana, you’re going to have a great time,'” said Mark Giannantonio, the casino’s president. “We want people to stay at the property.”

To lure customers back, Tropicana is launching an advertising campaign based on the theme “Experience the Difference.” The goal is to portray Tropicana in an entirely new light – countering negative publicity about bedbugs, smelly rooms, overflowing toilets and surly employees during the casino’s disastrous licensing hearing last month.

Angered by those problems, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission stripped Tropicana of its license Dec. 12 and deemed Columbia Sussex an unsuitable owner. Tropicana is now under the control of a state-appointed conservator, who will oversee the casino’s sale to a new buyer.

Admitting mistakes, Tropicana looks to remake its image

For months, the union and the Casino Control Commission were blasting this place in the papers, convincing the public that the Tropicana was not a “first-class resort.” Did they think that this would have any effect besides running off customers? Of course the ads are going to say, “things are great,” but I would hope that patrons aren’t so naive as to automatically believe that just because the “baddies” are leaving town, the Trop is once more first-class.

If it only takes an ad campaign to restore the Trop’s luster, then things weren’t so bad in the first place. So maybe it will take a major renovation (which hopefully includes sprucing up the exterior) to re-establish the place.

And maybe the organizations who were so quick to trash the place in the press should work just as hard to rehabilitate it, and the city’s image. I think that people in Atlantic City lose sight of the fact that the world off of Absecon Island isn’t paying rapt attention to who owns which casino. Ninety percent of the city’s target demographic probably just heard “Atlantic City casino…bedbugs…stinky toilets” and figured “why not play in PA instead?”

To use an area-appropriate analogy, it’s like a Boardwalk merchant feeding the seagulls every day then complaining because the birds are fouling the passers-by and driving off business. What did he expect?