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Tropicana sale could happen within weeks

New Jersey casino regulators said at least six potential buyers have contacted them.

ATLANTIC CITY - At least a half-dozen potential buyers have contacted state casino regulators about buying the Tropicana Casino & Resort, and a sale could take place within weeks, the head of the state Casino Control Commission said yesterday.

Linda Kassekert appeared at a news conference at the Tropicana with former state Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein, the interim trustee who is overseeing the casino until a buyer can be found, and Tropicana president Mark Giannantonio, who will stay on to run its day-to-day operations until the sale.

"I'm pleased to see that it is open, and full, and running," Kassekert said in a poinsettia-bedecked area just off the casino floor, surrounded by Tropicana workers and curious gamblers. "The Tropicana is in great hands."

After meeting with Tropicana and casino commission staff yesterday, Stein decided Giannantonio was the best choice to stay and manage the nuts and bolts of the operation.

"I'm here; I'm staying on; I'm running the property," Giannantonio told the Associated Press before the news conference was scheduled. "I intend to work with Justice Stein, and I look forward to a very, very smooth transition. My obligation is to keep things going."

The Casino Control Commission stripped the Tropicana of its license Wednesday after deciding that its owner, Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex Corp., was incapable of running the type of "first-class facility" required under state law.

That forces a sale of the property, which includes New Jersey's largest hotel, with 2,129 rooms.

"Just from the number of people who have reached out to me and to the justice, I don't think it's going to take all that long," Kassekert said. "I would say weeks. I've heard already from a half-dozen interested parties."

The commission and Stein plan to devise a process next week for interested parties to make formal offers.

No names of potential suitors were mentioned at the news conference. But Baltimore-based developer the Cordish Co. told the Associated Press Thursday that it was eyeing the Tropicana, saying: "It fits perfectly with our Atlantic City strategy and existing holdings in Atlantic City."

Cordish built The Walk, a $110 million retail-entertainment district in the heart of Atlantic City between the convention center and casinos.

Other potential suitors include Penn National Gaming; Dennis Gomes, the Tropicana's former chief executive officer, who oversaw the property when it was owned by Aztar Corp.; and Pinnacle Entertainment, which lost a bidding war for Aztar to Columbia Sussex, but has since started a $1.5 billion casino project here.

Columbia Sussex is appealing the license denial, but acknowledges it may be forced to file for bankruptcy protection soon if it can't overturn the decision or work out a new deal with its lenders, who could demand accelerated repayment of their loans as soon as Wednesday.