MGM BOSS

MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren testifies before the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

ATLANTIC CITY — Casino giant MGM Resorts International won regulatory approval Wednesday to re-enter the Atlantic City market amid hopes that it will help revive a town battered by a series of casino closings.

In a 3-0 vote, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission found MGM qualified to hold a gaming license and cleared the way for the company to regain its 50 percent ownership in Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

“I want to say that I welcome MGM back into the New Jersey gaming industry. The company is one of the leaders in the gaming and entertainment industry, and I believe it is a very positive sign for Atlantic City’s future,” said Matthew Levinson, the commission’s chairman.

Jim Murren, MGM’s chairman and CEO, said the company is excited by its prospects in Atlantic City and is eager to lead a recovery of the gaming market. MGM is returning to Atlantic City at a time when three casinos already have closed, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino is scheduled to shut down Tuesday, and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort has filed for bankruptcy and warns it may close its doors in November.

“I feel there will be a role for Atlantic City in the gaming and entertainment marketplace,” Murren told reporters when asked why MGM would want to come back to the struggling resort.

Murren said MGM’s top priority is regaining its half-ownership in Borgata and helping to bring even more entertainment to the casino. MGM plans to use its clout in the entertainment industry to create more shows for Borgata.

“You can’t be a major concert promoter without dealing with MGM,” Murren said.

MGM, owner of 15 casino resorts worldwide, is the largest entertainment provider on the Las Vegas Strip. Murren noted that the company sold 6 million tickets to concerts and other entertainment events in Las Vegas last year. Now, MGM plans to bring a strong entertainment strategy to Atlantic City, as well as helping to attract new conventions to town, he said.

Boyd Gaming Corp., which operates Borgata and owns the remaining 50 percent, welcomed MGM back as its partner. Boyd will continue to oversee Borgata’s day-to-day operations.

“MGM Resorts has been an excellent and valued partner at Borgata over the years,” said Keith Smith, president and CEO of Boyd Gaming. “We look forward to continuing to build on Borgata’s long track record of success as the region’s leading entertainment resort destination.”

MGM’s interest in Borgata has been held in a trust following the company’s 2010 pullout from Atlantic City in a regulatory dispute with New Jersey. The trust will be dissolved now that MGM is regaining its ownership stake.

Borgata’s New Jersey Internet gambling operation is one area that MGM sees as a major business opportunity in collaboration with Boyd Gaming, Murren said.

MGM will consider development options for 72 acres of vacant land it owns next to Borgata and another 14 acres of property adjacent to Golden Nugget Atlantic City. MGM is Atlantic City’s largest casino landholder and for years has been toying with development projects, including plans for lavish megaresorts that have not been built.

“We’re going to look at everything,” Murren told the commission during the licensing hearing.

Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Murren did not rule out the possibility of MGM buying one of Atlantic City’s closed casinos. Analysts have been speculating that MGM might be a candidate to buy Revel Casino Hotel, the glitzy $2.4 billion megaresort that closed over the Labor Day weekend after racking up huge losses during a troubled two-year run.

“It’s really hard to say at this point. I can’t speak to any other opportunities right now,” Murren said of any interest MGM might have in Revel or any other Atlantic City casino.

Meanwhile, the Casino Control Commission’s vote finally resolved a bitter regulatory dispute that saw MGM leave Atlantic City in 2010 rather than sever ties to business partner Pansy Ho for a casino in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.

In 2009, New Jersey regulators called Pansy Ho an “suitable” partner for MGM, a finding based on the alleged Asian organized crime ties by her father, Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho. MGM and the Ho family denied those allegations.

Since those initial organized crime concerns were raised, MGM and Pansy Ho have restructured their former 50-50 partnership in the Macau casino. Ho is now only a minority owner and is not involved in the casino’s day-to-day operations.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, the agency that investigated the MGM-Ho partnership, said Pansy Ho’s influence has been greatly diluted. She no longer has a management role and is not involved in the selection of gambling junket operators that bring customers to the Macau casino.

David Rebuck, the division’s director, expressed confidence that MGM has taken “substantial steps” to reduce Ho’s influence and protect itself from Asian organized crime. Alluding to the protracted dispute between MGM and New Jersey regulators, Rebuck said Wednesday’s vote allowed both sides to “overcome an area of significant conflict.”

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258

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