Trump no more, Golden Nugget polishes own brand

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The thousands of "Trump"
references are gone from hotel doors, corridors and the sides of the
building, along with the hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions?) of
tiny interlocked "T”s that dominated the carpeting.
One of the
first orders of business for the new owners of Trump Marina Hotel Casino
when they bought it in May was to strip the Trump name and all
remaining remnants from the premises. That was the easy part.
comes the much harder task of establishing their own brand for the
casino now known as the Golden Nugget Atlantic City. Houston-based
Landry’s Restaurants bought the casino-hotel for $38 million — about a
tenth of what former owners Trump Entertainment Resorts nearly got for
it just two years earlier. But that sale fell through and Atlantic City
casino values collapsed as the economy headed south.
Fertitta, the billionaire owner of Landry’s — which also owns Golden
Nuggets in Las Vegas and Lauglin, Nev. — got busy right away on a $150
million renovation and re-branding he views as crucial to establishing
the Golden Nugget’s own identity in Atlantic City.
"Every single
inch is being touched," he said. "The building is going to look brand
new when it’s finished. If you took someone who hadn’t been in there
since last year, blindfolded them and led them into the building now,
they won’t know where they are."
The casino’s motto quickly became
"Out with the old, in with the Gold." With its aging brick exterior and
uninspiring institutional design, Trump Marina had long been derided as
looking like a hospital since shortly after it opened in 1985 as
Trump’s Castle. First to go were the giant "Trump Marina" signs bolted
to the sides of the building. The weathered brick was painted gold, and
golden banners were unfurled at the main entrance.
Inside, the
casino remains a whirl of construction activity. On a recent visit,
workers had several areas cordoned off as they built new attractions,
rewired electrical fixtures and reconfigured corridors. The main
entrance was buried behind construction vehicles, cones and barrels.
call it a work in progress," said Karen Hudek of Monroe, Conn., who
spent a recent weekend there. "There’s a lot going on."
She was pleased with her accommodations.
rooms were clean and they came in punctually to clean them every day,"
she said. "I read some bad reviews of this place on the Internet, so I’m
going to go home and correct that."
Yet she’s not sure she’d go back, at least right away.
"There’s a lot of other places on the Boardwalk I’d want to go to first," she said.
Willie Williams of Atlanta also enjoyed his first trip to the Golden Nugget.
"So far it’s really good," he said. "The rooms are real nice. They’re doing a lot
Fertitta agrees.
definitely a construction zone, but we try very hard not to interfere
with the guests," he said. "A lot of people like the excitement when
you’re building."
What’s not building, at least so far, is the
Golden Nugget’s casino revenue. In October, the casino took in just over
$9 million, a decline of 28.3 percent from Oct. 2010. It averaged less
than $300,000 a day, compared with over $400,000 a year ago.
the first 10 months of this year, the Golden Nugget is dead last in
casino revenue in Atlantic City. Its $106.1 million take is down 15.4
percent from the same period last year.
Yet Fertitta is unfazed,
saying he is focused on increasing overall profitability by controlling
expenses, particularly by refusing to join an expensive arms race with
larger casinos to throw costly promotional spending at prospective
"We don’t buy business," he said. He alluded to a
promotion used earlier in the year by Resorts Casino Hotel, which is
also struggling to build its business volumes. "I can go give rooms away
for 20 dollars, but that has never been my philosophy," Fertitta said.
we bought the Golden Nugget Las Vegas in 2005, I took the revenue down
and the (earnings) up," he said. "Some of the business we’ve lost is
business where they (Trump Entertainment Resorts) just gave them too
much. We just don’t do that. Last summer they lost $3 million; this
summer we made $2.5 million. That’s a pretty nice swing."
casino had a gross operating profit of $2.1 million for July, August and
September, compared with just $247,000 for the same period last year
when Trump owned it.
The rebranding returns the Golden Nugget name
to Atlantic City, although in a different building unrelated to the
original Golden Nugget, which operated from 1980 to 1987 in what is now
ACH, the former Atlantic City Hilton.
A big part of the new Golden
Nugget’s renovation included adding new restaurants including the Chart
House (one of several around the country that the parent company owns),
and Vic & Anthony’s steakhouse. Italian and sushi restaurants are
coming soon.
The Golden Nugget recently hosted shows by Motley
Crue singer Vince Neil and comic Kathleen Madigan. It hosted a best
festival on its outdoor deck, and a Beatles tribute band, "1964," is
coming in December.
The casino won some degree of loyalty from
patrons when it was the only one of Atlantic City’s 11 casinos to keep
its hotel and restaurants open during a state-mandated shutdown of
casinos during Hurricane Irene in late August.
"I know from
hurricanes from dealing with them all my life in the South," Fertitta
said. "A hurricane doesn’t bother me. There’s no need to shut down.
Unless it’s a Category 5 and it’s coming right for us, we’ll stay open."
Wayne Parry can be reached at
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.