ATLANTIC CITY - Donald Trump seems to have separation anxiety when it comes to this gambling town and the three casinos emblazoned with his famous name.
He "has invested a significant portion of his brand equity in Atlantic City gaming, so it is no surprise to see him trying to fight to maintain his rather large presence there," said Joe Weinert of Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C., of Linwood, N.J.
The real estate magnate-cum-TV personality is trying to take Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. private, after quitting the company's board in a huff in February along with daughter Ivanka - the weekend before the company declared bankruptcy for the third time.
His new offer is before the board of directors, competing with one made by the bondholders who currently control the company. Because neither offer has been made part of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court filing, the terms of each remain confidential, according to the bondholders.
On Tuesday, Bankruptcy Court Judge Judith Wizmur, presiding over the case in Camden, gave the company an extra 45 days to consider the competing plans.
Trump's latest salvo comes after two years of fruitless efforts to sell the company, or pieces of it.
Trump Entertainment remains one of the biggest casino players in town. It owns the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, and Trump Marina casinos, making it second only to Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which owns four Atlantic City gambling halls. The three Trump casinos employ about 8,500 in the region.
In 2007, two deals by two partnerships to buy all three Trump casinos as a package fell apart. An offer by Coastal Marina L.L.C. to acquire just Trump Marina for $270 million fell through late last month.
Alex R. Picou, managing director of KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., of New York, who oversees gaming and leisure, said Trump's relentlessness about the Atlantic City properties makes sense.
"You have to go back and look at things in context," Picou said. "Trump tried to sell all of his assets here, and ended up with no buyers in the two years before this whole mess with the economy - there were no buyers in a good market. He finally gets a deal to potentially sell the Marina, and it falls through.
"Who understands the company better? Him."
Trump, who declined to be interviewed, remains the largest individual shareholder of Trump Entertainment, with a 31 percent equity. And even though his equity and involvement in Atlantic City have shrunk with each court restructuring, he remains a polarizing figure.
"I'm in sales, so Donald is the ultimate brand," fan Pete Walmsley, a rubber-products salesman from Richmond, Va., said during a recent weekend at the Taj Mahal. "His name still has a positive ring. He is really the one that built Atlantic City and supplied that area with a lot of jobs."
As Walmsley, 46, spoke, he was shopping in the Trump Exchange at the Taj Mahal. He bought Robert Slater's Trump biography, No Such Thing As Over-Exposure, and two Trump ties for $50 each.
"He's known for quality and not holding back and skimping on anything. He negotiates the marble, stone, and steel for his casinos," Walmsley said. "He is heavily involved in building them. That's why having his brand adds to the success of the casinos."
Bondholder Robert Strougo of New York was not as complimentary.
"Trump bankrupted stockholders, bondholders, and employees three times. . . . It's time for him to be held accountable," Strougo said. "He should suffer the same consequences like the rest of us who have invested with him in the past."
Trump Entertainment's shares have plummeted 99 percent in the last two years, closing at $15 on June 19, 2007, but at only 18 cents a share in over-the-counter trading today.
The company's stock was delisted from the Nasdaq exchange starting Feb. 26, after dipping below $1 a share.
This time, Picou said, Trump has to show he's serious about the long-term health of the company.
"Trump has to be willing to put significant capital investment into it," he said. "It's like buying a house - buying it is not the hard part, but maintaining it. He has to enter with a plan."