Making the News

Star Ledger

Originally Published:Friday, July 27, 2007

Michael Pollock, publisher of Michael Pollock's Gaming Indus try Observer, said he does not believe the union will have much say in licensing.

"The commission has a judicial function, so they're going to weigh all of the criteria of the act and can't be swayed by public opinion," Pollock said. "They have to make an independent judgment, and they're going to rely on the reports filed by their staff and the Division of Gaming Enforcement."

Tropicana's new owner facing ire of union

By JUDY DeHAVEN
Star Ledger

Atlantic City's largest casino employee union may object to state licensing for the new owner of the Tropicana, an unprecedented move sparked by massive job cuts that have taken place since Columbia Sussex took control of the gambling parlor in January.

Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant employees' union, said after the layoffs of 700 employees -- or 15 percent of the work force -- service has suffered to the point that the Tropicana can no longer maintain itself as a first- class facility.

The Tropicana is "filthy and dirty," McDevitt said, so much so that "some of its guests are migrating to other properties."

He said it is a lack of service -- rather than competition from Pennsylvania and New York slot parlors -- that has caused Tropicana's revenue to fall 7 percent for the first six months of the year, since Columbia Sussex took over. During the same period, revenue for the entire Atlantic City market has fallen 4 percent.

The Tropicana and its owners are required to obtain key licensing approvals in upcoming months, although no hearings have been set. Among a bevy of requirements -- including having honesty, integrity and the financial wherewithal to operate a casino -- license applicants have to maintain a hotel that "is in all respects a superior, first- class facility of exceptional quality," according to the Casino Control Act. That is what the union is expected to challenge.

Local 54 represents 1,300 workers at the Trop and more than 15,000 across A.C.

Last year, Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex won a bidding war for Tropicana's owner, Aztar Corp., in a deal worth $2.1 billion. While some analysts were surprised at the price Aztar commanded, Columbia Sussex spokesman Hud Englehart said what made it so attractive was that its casinos were "habitually overstaffed."

Cutting jobs was a way for the company to operate more efficiently, he said.

"We're doing what any business would do given a staffing level that in some cases was 50-to-70 percent higher (than) in similar properties," Englehart said.

Rather than let the casino fall into disrepair, Englehart said Columbia Sussex has invested $15 million to $25 million in the Tropicana.

"That says a lot about what they're willing to do to bring the property back, which in my opinion slipped badly under previous owners," Englehart said.

"Mr. McDevitt is welcome to his opinion," he said, "but we're going to pay more attention to customers who frequent the property."

The Tropicana's casino license renewal is set to come up in November. Columbia Sussex, which, along with key employees, received interim authorization to operate the Tropicana last year, recently asked for a three-month extension for final approval of its license while investigators complete a background check. That means the Casino Control Commission won't take up the matter until January.

McDevitt said in the 11 years he has been Local 54's president -- a time in which the union has twice struck against the casinos -- "it never once occurred to me to question the licensing of any of these casinos."

"I never before believed that a casino should not exist," McDevitt said. "They're not fit for Atlantic City."

But Michael Pollock, publisher of Michael Pollock's Gaming Indus try Observer, said he does not be lieve the union will have much say in licensing.

"The commission has a judicial function, so they're going to weigh all of the criteria of the act and can't be swayed by public opinion," Pollock said. "They have to make an independent judgment, and they're going to rely on the reports filed by their staff and the Division of Gaming Enforcement."
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