ATLANTIC CITY - Eddie Llambias may be the only gaming executive in Atlantic City who has a British accent.
The London-born Llambias has crisscrossed the United States and spent time overseas and in the Bahamas during a 26-year casino career that began as a croupier in England.
"In Europe, gaming is different," he said. "In Europe, it is elegant. That is something that always appealed to me. I've always enjoyed the elegance of casinos and what they represent."
Reviving a formerly elegant Atlantic City casino may be Llambias' biggest challenge yet in his career. He has taken charge of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino as its new general manager.
Trump Plaza was considered a luxury resort when it opened in 1984. Its gleaming brass-and-glass architecture symbolized New York-style cool then, but now the property is outdated and in need of a facelift as it struggles with plunging business.
In February, Trump Plaza stumbled through a dismal month that saw it finish next-to-last in gaming revenue among the city's 11 casino hotels. Trump Plaza took in $11.5 million from its slot machines and table games, a 15 percent decline from the same month a year ago. Only Trump Marina Hotel Casino was lower, at $9.3 million.
"Last place is not acceptable for the Plaza," stressed David Hughes, chief financial officer of parent company Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc.
Trump Entertainment is in the process of selling Trump Marina for $38 million to Landry's Inc., a restaurant, gaming and entertainment conglomerate. The sale will allow Trump Entertainment to focus on Trump Plaza and the flagship Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort as the company continues its post-bankruptcy restructuring under the new ownership of corporate bondholders aligned with Donald Trump.
Bob Griffin, Trump Entertainment's new chief executive officer, brought in the 46-year-old Llambias to run Trump Plaza. The two had previously worked together at Isle of Capri Casinos Inc.
"Eddie Llambias is a respected talent in the gaming industry, and I am very excited about the future of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino property under his stewardship," Griffin said.
Trump Entertainment built a new $255 million hotel tower at the Taj Mahal in 2008, as well as making other upgrades to the property, to secure its future. Now, the company is trying to develop a strategy for rejuvenating Trump Plaza.
Llambias has been meeting with gamblers in hopes of building a loyal customer base. At the same time, Trump Plaza has been inviting back some of its former customers who have drifted away from the casino over the years.
"I think the opportunity exists to win back one customer at a time," Llambias said.
Hughes said Trump Plaza was "ignored" by its previous owners. The new ownership group, headed by New York hedge fund manager Marc Lasry, has discussed the possibility of bringing in a joint venture partner to redevelop the casino, but those are longer-term plans.
In the meantime, Llambias is looking for ways to quickly re-energize the property. One promotion launched March 1 includes free parking for all Trump Plaza customers the entire month.
By the end of March, Trump Plaza expects to have 200 new slot machines to replace some older models. The new machines, mainly the popular penny slots, will give Trump Plaza 1,700 slots overall.
Llambias also hopes to capitalize on the casino's prime location in the center of the Boardwalk. Trump Plaza sits at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway, the main entrance into town.
"The one thing I noticed immediately about Trump Plaza was the great, great location," Llambias said.
Trump Plaza is physically connected to Boardwalk Hall by a corridor, allowing customers easy access between the casino and the city's main sports and concert arena. Llambias said the casino has been getting spillover business from Boardwalk Hall after shows let out and he expects that to continue.
Llambias' new job at Trump Plaza has brought him back to Atlantic City after a long absence. When he visited 14 years ago, it was before the city had started a multibillion-dollar construction boom highlighted by 2003's grand opening of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
"I've noticed the city has changed markedly from a visual standpoint," he said.
However, the fragile economy and competition from Pennsylvania's casinos have slowed the next phase of Atlantic City's redevelopment. The $2.4 billion Revel casino, scheduled to open in mid-2012, secured $1.15 billion in new financing last month to bring the stalled project back to life.
Llambias said is he encouraged by Gov. Chris Christie's rescue plan for Atlantic City, which includes a new state-run Tourism District to oversee the casino zones, beaches and Boardwalk.
"That really is exciting," he said. "Having that tourism body ensures that the place is safe, clean and protected."
One area that Llambias is anxious to see spruced up is the Boardwalk.
"Being honest, I think it could be cleaner," he said.
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