ATLANTIC CITY - Longtime employees and customers of the Tropicana Casino Resort are eagerly awaiting what the casino's new owner will do.
A group of secured lenders including billionaire Carl Icahn won the bidding for the hard-pressed property Friday night when no one else came forward by the deadline set by a bankruptcy judge.
Icahn's group holds a $1.4 billion mortgage on the Tropicana. It offered a $200 million credit bid in exchange for ownership.
Ahmet Kahraman, 32, manager of Zeytinia, a food market that leases space from the Tropicana, said the involvement of Icahn - onetime owner of the Sands Hotel Casino on the Boardwalk - was a positive.
"It will really be better for us because the former owner [William Yung] was not in the casino business," Kahraman said yesterday from behind the register. "He was in the hotel business, and they're two different things."
The Casino Control Commission stripped Yung of his New Jersey casino license in December 2007 for gross mismanagement and other violations. The commission put trustee Gary Stein, a former New Jersey Supreme Court justice, in charge of overseeing the casino and finding a buyer.
Since news of the winning bid became public, Kahraman said, he has noticed a boost in worker morale. "I can see employees of the casino starting to do things the way they are supposed to, because now they are starting to care."
Retiree Marie Sorrento, 72, of Bellmawr, loves to gamble at the Tropicana, she said at a video-poker machine yesterday. "While I hate to see it get sold," she said, "as long as they keep it open, I'll be happy."
Patrick Martin, a 17-year Tropicana employee who works in marketing operations, has a clear vision of what he is hoping for.
"I'm looking for a permanent owner that is going to put money into the property and values its employees," Martin, 68, said as he greeted customers in front of the Crystal Room, a high-end slots area. "Financial decisions were made that rewarded officers without reinvesting profits."
A hearing to consider the sale is scheduled for June 12 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Camden. The Casino Control Commission also must determine what form the new buyer will take - a wholly owned subsidiary of the reorganized Tropicana group or a stand-alone entity created by the lenders.