Tropicana Casino and Resort has trimmed its work force in response to further declines in business caused by the sluggish economy and competition from gaming halls in surrounding states.

Mark Giannantonio, Tropicana's chief executive officer, said 56 employees were laid off in departments throughout the organization.

"This reduction in work force was as a result of strong competition from gaming across our borders and as a result of a soft economy," Giannantonio said in a statement Tuesday announcing the layoffs.

Tropicana's layoffs are the latest wave of job cuts made in the casino industry this winter. Altogether, nearly 1,400 jobs were eliminated in December, January and February at the 11 casino hotels.

Employment figures compiled by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission show there were 33,272 total casino workers as of March 1. Tropicana had 2,970 employees heading into this month.

The Casino Control Commission announced Monday that layoff notices were sent to 110 of its workers as the state agency prepares for Gov. Chris Christie's overhaul of New Jersey's gaming regulations. Of the commission's 261 employees, 258 have received layoff notices in the past two months. Most of the commission's duties will be taken over by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement as part of the governor's cost-cutting plan.

Job cuts at the casinos have corresponded with the deeper economic slump. Revenue from Atlantic City's slot machines and table games plunged by double digits in both December and January.

The gaming industry has suffered 29 straight months of declining revenue, but the casinos are hopeful that a strong Presidents Day weekend will propel them to a higher month for February. Revenue figures for February will be released Thursday.

Gaming analyst Andrew Zarnett of Deutsche Bank is warning that rising gas prices blamed on political strife in oil-rich Libya and the Middle East could harm business even more in drive-in casino markets such as Atlantic City.

As the price of oil hovers around $105 a barrel these days, Zarnett noted that visits to Atlantic City and other regional gaming markets "sharply decreased" during a surge in gas prices in 2008. However, he also said Atlantic City could benefit if vacationers decide to take gambling trips closer to home this summer instead of traveling to far-flung destinations.

"It is also possible that while visitation to regional markets may be down, some customers may substitute a regional trip for a destination trip, which may end up being a relative positive for regional casinos, especially this summer," Zarnett wrote in a report Monday to investors.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258

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