Gambling industry observers say a non-casino company may be the most likely suitor to acquire Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc.

The company, founded by developer Donald Trump, announced Thursday that it had received preliminary takeover offers. Trump Entertainment said in a statement that it formed a special board committee to evaluate proposals for the Atlantic City casino operator.

Yesterday, Trump Entertainment shares closed up 21 percent, or $2.73, at $15.80 on the Nasdaq.

One industry observer said the company was likely fielding more interest from private-equity firms than other casino operators. "Donald likes to torture these people," said Marvin Ashner, a gambling consultant based in Atlantic City and former chief operating officer of the company that operated Resorts Atlantic City Casino in the 1980s. "He figures he can get the best deal by speaking to a rookie of the industry and squeeze out a better price."

Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the world's largest gambling company, which owns four casinos in Atlantic City, was acquired by two private-equity firms for $27.8 billion late last year.

Although some view private equity as the most likely suitor, others say there are still large gambling firms that have shown interest in entering Atlantic City and may see the Trump properties as their ticket in.

Companies mentioned yesterday as logical bidders for Trump Entertainment were Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., and Ameristar Casinos Inc. of Las Vegas.

A spokesman for Penn National said yesterday that the company had no comment regarding Trump Entertainment. But Peter Carlino, the chairman and chief executive officer of Penn National, expressed interest last year in acquiring one of the three Trump casinos.

Ameristar was unsuccessful in acquiring the Tropicana Casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas from Aztar Corp. last year. "We don't comment on acquisition activity or specific targets," said Karen Lynn, a spokeswoman for Ameristar, which owns seven properties, mostly riverboat casinos in the Midwest.

But Lynn added that Ameristar was in aggressive acquisition mode. Last month, the company signed a definitive agreement to buy the Resorts East Chicago casino for $675 million from Resorts International Holdings L.L.C.

Wall Street analysts say the Trump casinos have been strapped for cash for some time and need a buyer with a lot of capital. The company is unprofitable and has about $1.4 billion in debt, even after emerging from bankruptcy in spring 2005.

That restructuring enabled Trump Entertainment to tap into a $500 million line of credit from investment firm Morgan Stanley to upgrade its Atlantic City casinos.

"They face the same problem, ironically, that they faced three years ago, in that they require more capital than they have to turn around the company," said Andrew Zarnett of Deutsche Bank AG in New York.

Some say that Morgan Stanley, which owns about 20 percent of Trump Entertainment, may have decided it was time to cut its losses. The Morgan Stanley executive in charge of gaming operations did not return calls seeking comment. The firm is also building a $2 billion casino on the Boardwalk.

Trump Entertainment shares have fallen 43 percent since the company was denied a license Dec. 20 to develop a Philadelphia casino.

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.