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Trump Resorts 4.0: Less debt, more Ivanka

About to leave its third bankruptcy behind, Trump Entertainment Resorts has a simple formula for the future in the Atlantic City casino market: less debt, more cash and more Ivanka.
Image: Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump
Donald Trump, chairman and CEO of the Trump Organization, poses with his daughter Ivanka in New York on Friday.Mark Lennihan / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

About to leave its third bankruptcy behind, Trump Entertainment Resorts has a simple formula for the future in the cutthroat Atlantic City casino market: less debt, more cash and more Ivanka.

It also plans to expand beyond New Jersey.

A federal bankruptcy judge on Monday chose bondholders led by New York-based Avenue Capital Group and Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka to buy the company out of bankruptcy for $225 million. Their bid topped a rival one from billionaire Carl Icahn, who wanted to swap the $486 million mortgage he holds on Trump Entertainment for ownership of the company.

When Trump Entertainment emerges from bankruptcy court later this year, its debt will be cut to $334 million, from nearly $1.8 billion. And that, Donald Trump says, is why the company will succeed where it failed three times before.

"This time we really cut the debt," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "It was never really cut enough. We've cut the debt down to a low level, and we now have a company in good financial shape."

Icahn's plan would have eliminated all the company's debt, but it also would have wiped out bondholders' investments — a key factor that led Judge Judith Wizmur to side with the proposal from the Trumps and the bondholders.

Mark Juliano, Trump Entertainment's CEO, said the company's first priority is revitalizing the three Atlantic City casinos it owns: the Trump Taj Mahal Casino resort, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino and Trump Marina Hotel Casino, which is being put back on the selling block this week.

But Juliano said the company will seek opportunities in other states to lessen its dependence on a single, struggling market, particularly if it can sell Trump Marina.

Expect to see a lot more of Ivanka Trump in the coming months, as she becomes one of the main public faces of Trump Entertainment. Already familiar from Trump Entertainment billboards in and around Atlantic City dating from the days before she and her father quit its board amid the bankruptcy filing, the executive vice president of development & acquisitions for the Trump Organization will play a larger role in marketing Trump Entertainment as well.

"We're going to include her in a lot of things, marketing, advertising," Donald Trump said. "The bondholders like both of us, but they've really gotten into Ivanka."

Active in hotel and real estate projects around the world for her father's company, Ivanka also has her own line of jewelry, and stars along with her father in "The Celebrity Apprentice," where she checks on the progress of competitors during their weekly assigned tasks, then questions them in the board room before her father fires one of them.

"The company started using my likeness to appeal to a younger demographic and a female demographic," the 27-year-old said in an interview Tuesday. "We've agreed to extend that and make it a legal right of the company."

Joe Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey casino consulting firm that is not involved with Trump Entertainment, said having Ivanka Trump more visible is "an experiment worth trying."

"She's a very bright, attractive person who resonates with the new market that Atlantic City needs to attract," he said. "Atlantic City has skewed older with its customers. The younger market is where the new dollars are at. They spend cash and they come to Atlantic City looking for a good time, not just to gamble."

Weinert said the bankruptcy deal will free up cash the company should use to continue modernizing its properties in the nation's second-largest gambling market, which continues to struggle against newer slots parlors in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.

Juliano said the company will try by the end of this week to revive a broken deal to sell Trump Marina to New York developer Richard Fields, a former protege of Donald Trump.

If Fields and his company, Coastal Marina LLC, aren't interested, Juliano said Trump Entertainment will seek another buyer. A Coastal spokesman did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The deal fell apart last year after the price was reduced twice, finally to $270 million. The Marina is expected to fetch even less now.

Cory Morowitz, a New Jersey casino analyst, said the new financing and lower debt give Trump Entertainment "some cushion," but he said rethinking Trump Entertainment's strategy will be key.

"Ultimately, their viability will be dependent on their ability to stabilize cash flows in Atlantic City at current levels — and possibly (on) selling Trump Marina," he said. "They really need to reinvent themselves to appeal to markets that are currently rejecting them and Atlantic City."