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LAS VEGAS-The Nevada Gaming Commission last week cleared Alex Yemenidjian to run gaming operations at the Tropicana Hotel Casino until the property’s new owners are licensed. The Tropicana is a well-known but distressed resort asset on the Las Vegas Strip that is changing hands as it emerges from Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection. The gaming commission’s decision affirms a do-pass recommendation earlier this month by the state Gaming Control Board.

Yemenidjian, who previously did a stint as president and COO of MGM Grand, is part of Toronto-based Onex Corp., Canada’s largest private-equity firm, which will take control of the 1,850-room Tropicana later this year. After Tropicana Entertainment LLC filed for protection from creditors in May 2008, a special purpose Onex entity acquired more than US$200 million of the principal amount of Tropicana’ s $440-million term loan, which is secured by the 34-acre resort. The debt was purchased at various discounts as the first investment by Onex’s third fund.

The plan of reorganization for the resort, which is separate from Tropicana Entertainment’s other assets, was confirmed in May 2009. The plan provides for the secured creditors, including Onex and the other holders of the $440 million term loan, to receive 100% of the equity in the Las Vegas property.

In May , Onex said it believes the pro forma company is well positioned for a turnaround and able to withstand the current downturn in the Las Vegas market because it will have no debt, slightly more than $20 million in cash and a working capital facility.

At the Gaming Control Board hearing in Carson City in early June, Yemenidjian said the new ownership group plans to invest upward of $100 million renovating the property. “We’re going to embark on a journey to transform the Tropicana to pre-eminence,” Yemenidjian reportedly told regulators.

Tropicana is one of the oldest and best-known casino names in Las Vegas, in part due to its location at one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the world, Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue. The property has approximately 1,850 hotel rooms, a 61,000-square-foot casino, five restaurants, an 850-seat showroom and approximately 1,800 employees.

In April , the resort had to shut down its 560-room Paradise Tower after an inspection turned up a non-compliance issue related to unpermitted plumbing work performed in during a late 1990s remodeling. The tower remains closed.

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