hilton casino
The Hilton Casino in Atlantic City / 2009 file photo.

ATLANTIC CITY — The Golden Nugget could be coming back to Atlantic City.

Officials with the parent company of Las Vegas' Golden Nugget Casino told The Press of Atlantic City on Tuesday that the company is interested in buying the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort, which is under the threat of being taken over by a bank that holds its mortgage.

Landry's Restaurants, a Houston-based corporation that owns various entertainment venues and restaurants around the country, including Atlantic City's Rain Forest Café, hopes to take advantage of Hilton's potential for a takeover.

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Receivership is being sought by U.S. Bank National Association, the trustee for the Hilton's mortgage holder, J.P. Morgan Chase Commercial Mortgage Securities Corp. The bank wants to force the Hilton into receivership after its owners defaulted on a $960 million loan for the Atlantic City property and two sister casinos in Mississippi: Resorts Tunica and Bally's Tunica.

The bank originally filed for receivership in Federal District Court on Aug. 4, but it withdrew that litigation in late August to pursue a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court.

Superior Court Judge William C. Todd said in late August that he would give officials with the troubled casino until Thursday to demonstrate why he should not place the gaming hall in receivership.

Lloyd D. Levenson, an Atlantic City gaming attorney recently hired by Landry's, said the company intends to make an effort to purchase the property through the receiver, should one be appointed.

"As far as we know, the property is not for sale," Levenson said. "The bank has made the application for the receiver. That seems to be the opportunity we have."

Hilton officials declined comment Tuesday.

The Hilton, Atlantic City's smallest casino, originally opened in 1980 as the Golden Nugget, casino mogul Steve Wynn's luxury resort. Wynn sold the casino for $440 million to Bally Manufacturing Corp. in 1987, beginning a string of ownership and name changes that diminished its reputation and stature. The casino became the Hilton in 1996 after another ownership switch.

Since then, the Hilton has become one of the worst-performing casinos among Atlantic City's 11 gaming halls, including losing $6.3 million in this year's second quarter.

Landry's now owns the Golden Nugget brand, which is present in both Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nev. According to officials with Landry's, the company has invested more than $300 million in its Las Vegas casino since 2005 to renovate and expand the property. The most recent addition was the Rush Tower, a $150 million structure featuring nearly 500 hotel rooms, a tropical aquarium and high-end retail shopping.

"Should Landry's purchase a casino in Atlantic City, they would inevitably convert the property into an incredible destination through a combination of luxury and service associated with the Golden Nugget brand and modern design and innovation," said a news release issued Tuesday by Landry's.

"Atlantic City needs new investors to help transform more of its casinos into destination resorts like those in Las Vegas," the release said.

Landry's also owns 53 restaurants across the nation, including four restaurants in New Jersey in addition to the Rain Forest Café in Atlantic City. The corporation also operates other hotels, mostly in Texas, including The Hilton Galveston Island Resort.

Company officials did not discuss any potential plans they had for the property, nor would they discuss how much they expected to pay for the property, should it be made available for purchase.

Amy Chasey, the Golden Nugget's vice president of marketing, declined to discuss how long the casino's owners have had an interest in returning to Atlantic City.

Contact Michael Clark:

609-272-7204

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