ATLANTIC CITY -Marc Lasry is now the chairman of Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc.
Lasry and other members of the hedge fund Avenue Capital Group were granted interim approval to run the casinos last July but Wednesday's New Jersey Casino Control Commission approval made the change official.
Now, the company that has about a 22 percent stronghold on Trump stock also has official leadership of the three Trump casinos: Trump Marina Hotel Casino, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
Despite the change, the Trump name will remain prominent in the Atlantic City skyline. The company offered Donald Trump as much as 10 percent ownership of the company for the continued use of his name.
In addition to approving Lasry and Avenue NJ Entertainment, LLC and Avenue NJ Entertainment Holdings, LLC, commission members unanimously approved Sonia Gardner to serve as a managing member of the holdings company. Gardner is Lasry's sister and co-owner of Avenue Capital Group. Neither Lasry nor Gardner attended Wednesday's meeting.
Robert Symington and David Licht, senior portfolio manager and senior vice president, respectively, of Avenue Capital Management II, L.P., were approved to serve on the board of directors for Trump Entertainment.
Symington told commission members during their regular meeting Wednesday Trump Entertainment has already seen several significant changes since the initial leadership change was approved last July.
Once the change was made, several Trump executives "elected to leave" the company and had to be replaced, he said. Second, Trump Marina was sold to Landry's Inc. The casino - which sold for $38 million - will be rebranded as the Golden Nugget and the sale is expected to be approved at the commission's next meeting May 25.
Landry's Inc. owns the Golden Nugget casino hotels in Laughlin and Las Vegas, Nev.
Proceeds from the casino sale, about $30 million, will help reduce the overall outstanding debt Trump Entertainment has. Chief Executive Officer Robert Griffin said that debt is currently about $332 million.
During the hearing, Symington said Avenue Capital Group officials understand that the current economic outlook is not good for Atlantic City's gaming revenue, but they were optimistic about a revenue upswing.
"We're all relatively optimistic going into the summer months," Symington said.
Last year Trump Marina was the weakest performer of the three Trump casinos, ending 2010 about $8.3 million in debt, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement reported Monday. The Taj Mahal posted a $50.7 million operating profit, a 40 percent drop from 2009. And Trump Plaza lost $5.5 million in profits, ending the year with a $2.4 million loss.
Overall, Atlantic City casino profits were down about 27 percent from 2009.
Griffin said the new Trump Entertainment officials already made improvements to both the Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza since taking over last year, but there is still a lot of work to do. He said more than 200 new slot machines were installed at Trump Plaza and about 400 were added to the Taj Mahal. However, more improvements, including facade work to the Taj Mahal and undisclosed renovations at Trump Plaza, are planned.
Griffin said Atlantic City is facing "a lot of challenges," but Avenue Capital Group officials also see a lot of promise in the city.
Revel Entertainment Group is expected to open its new casino in the summer of 2012. Trump Entertainment welcomes the challenge, Griffin said.
"I think for our company it's positive," Griffin said, adding the new site will attract new clientele to the city and will "put pressure" on Trump Plaza. "I think it will help the Taj Mahal."
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