ATLANTIC CITY - Has anyone seen Nick Ribis lately? Certainly not at the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
The vice chairman and chief executive officer of the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort is facing criticism from Gov. Chris Christie's office for his chronic absenteeism at the state agency that oversees the casino-funded redevelopment of Atlantic City.
Ribis, one of two casino industry representatives on the CRDA's 17-member board, has missed the last seven monthly meetings and has not explained why he has been a no-show.
"He hasn't been around at all. We haven't heard from him," said Thomas D. Carver, the authority's executive director.
The only time Ribis was physically present for an authority board meeting in 2010 was in March. He participated by teleconference at the April and May meetings but has missed all others since then, CRDA attendance records show.
"It's inexcusable," Christie spokesman Mike Drewniak said of Ribis' absences in an e-mail to The Press of Atlantic City. "We reasonably expect members of boards and commissions to be full participants and to be mindful of their obligations when they agree to serve."
Drewniak said a unit of the Governor's Office that oversees the CRDA and other New Jersey government authorities recently asked the CRDA to supply its attendance records for the past 12 months. The records are under review.
"The purpose of the request was precisely to identify chronic absenteeism like this," Drewniak said, referring to Ribis. "This is another example of this administration's efforts to curtail longstanding abuses at authorities."
Ribis did not return calls seeking comment. He was appointed to the CRDA board by then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Jan. 18, 2010, Corzine's last full day in office. Ribis' chronic absences in 2010 were reminiscent of his poor CRDA attendance when he served as a casino representative during a different term in 2003.
In 2003, he publicly apologized to the board for missing so many meetings. "You will see me regularly," he vowed then, although his attendance dropped off again later on.
The CRDA, one of the state's wealthiest authorities, controls the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars of casino revenue for housing projects and economic development in Atlantic City and other parts of New Jersey. Its powers would be greatly expanded under proposed legislation that would put it in charge of a state-run tourism district designed to draw more visitors and investment to Atlantic City.
Ribis is not subject to any attendance requirements at the CRDA. He serves a two-year term as a casino representative. Unlike the public members of the CRDA's board, who are paid $18,000 annually, the casino representatives do not get a salary.
Carver said that despite Ribis' absences, the CRDA has had no problems getting enough members for its meetings and taking votes on development projects.
"Thank the good Lord it hasn't," he said. "We've had ample quorums so that we can conduct our business."
In contrast to Ribis' poor attendance, Don Marrandino, the other casino representative on the CRDA board, missed just three meetings in 2010, records show. Marrandino said he could not make those meetings because of corporate obligations in Las Vegas for his company, Caesars Entertainment Corp., formerly known as Harrah's Entertainment Inc.
"It's an important thing to have a casino representative on such an important agency. It's an honor to be on it. I don't just serve Harrah's, I serve the entire industry," said Marrandino, who is president of the Bally's, Caesars, Harrah's Resort and Showboat casinos in Atlantic City owned by Caesars Entertainment.
Casino representatives at the CRDA are chosen by the gaming industry and recommended to the governor for formal nomination. Bob Griffin, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the industry is still being represented at the CRDA by Marrandino.
Griffin, who also is the CEO of the Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. casinos, said he has not spoken to Ribis about his attendance. Griffin alluded to Ribis' responsibilities as the Hilton's chief executive to possibly explain his CRDA absences. Ribis and the Hilton have been engaged in a court fight with lenders over attempts to force the financially troubled casino into receivership or to foreclose on the property. The Hilton stopped paying its mortgage in July 2009.
"I understand the situation Nick has been faced with," Griffin said. "Unfortunately, he's been pulled in other directions. We would like to see representation, but we are trying to balance the needs of all."
In 2009, Ribis and partner Colony Capital LLC lost ownership of Resorts Casino Hotel when it defaulted on its mortgage. Lenders took over Resorts and then sold it in December for $31.5 million to Atlantic City gaming executive Dennis Gomes and New York real estate mogul Morris Bailey.
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