ATLANTIC CITY-By a 4-to-1 vote, the state’s Casino Control Commission yesterday denied the renewal of the casino license of the Tropicana Casino and Resort. The agency nixed the standard five-year renewal application of the property, as well as an alternative proposal for a temporary one-year license.

“Has the Tropicana proved that it has met the standards of good character and financial responsibility required under New Jersey licensing standards? My review of the record is that they have failed woefully,” said commission chairperson Linda M. Kassekert yesterday in remarks after the vote. “In a word, Tropicana’s regulatory performance over the past year has been abysmal.”

Owner Columbia Sussex, based in Crestview Hills, KY, acquired the property at the beginning of this year as part of the larger $3-billion acquisition of Aztar Corp. Since then, the new ownership has raised questions involving major layoffs that have occurred, as well as the cleanliness of the property and its guest rooms.

“Staffing was slashed in pursuit of profit,” Kassekert said yesterday. “Cleanliness was disregarded in order to meet a predetermined bottom line. Customer service was dismissed.”

Columbia Sussex officials say they will file an appeal in state court to overturn the ruling, an action that observers say is unlikely to occur. Failing a reversal, the only way the casino can get relicensed is if it has new owners, so the property is apparently effectively on the market. A number that has already surfaced is $1 billion, and a name that has already emerged is former Trop CEO Dennis Gomes, who ran the property when it was owned by Aztar.

In the meantime, the casino/hotel will remain open under the supervision of a trustee, and the CCC has appointed former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein to that role. Also as part of its disciplinary action, the commission fined the hotel $750,000 for failing to have an independent audit committee for six months.

Columbia Sussex officials declined comment. A prepared statement issued by hotel president and COO Mark Giannantonio reads, in part: “I, along with my Tropicana team…will work closely and diligently with the appointed trustee. I want the public to know that the Tropicana will remain fully open for business… .”

Besides its casino, the property consists of 2,129 guest rooms and a mall-like entertainment and retail component called the Quarter. A major expansion was completed by Aztar in 2005, a project that was delayed several months by the collapse of an under-construction parking garage.

The commission’s action is only the second time an Atlantic City casino property was denied relicensing. In 1989, the financially troubled Atlantis Casino Hotel was denied a license and was later bought by Donald Trump.

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