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Outlook Is Dicey on Trump Casinos, Auditor Warns

March 31, 2004|Roger Vincent and Meg James | Times Staff Writers

The most beautiful, fantastic, stupendous casino chain in the world -- as Donald Trump might describe it -- could be in danger of crapping out.

In a regulatory filing Tuesday, the auditor of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. said a heap of debt had made it difficult for the company to remodel its casinos and woo more gamblers. Those conditions "raise substantial doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern," Ernst & Young said.

Trump Hotels, which isn't related to Trump's New York real estate business, has lost money for eight years, including an $87.3-million spanking in 2003.

The Atlantic City, N.J., company is trying to complete a recapitalization by mid-summer that would allow it to upgrade and expand, said Scott Butera, a Trump Hotels executive vice president. The key: An affiliate of Credit Suisse First Boston would invest $400 million in the company but only if bondholders accept less than face value for $1.8 billion in debt they hold.

"Hopefully, the plan will resolve a lot of issues raised" by the auditors, Butera said.

For all of Trump Hotels' troubles, the 57-year-old mogul himself has been enjoying a winning streak on his NBC TV reality series "The Apprentice."

The top 10 show -- which pits job applicants against one another for a chance to work for Trump -- unfolded last week at the flagship Trump Taj Mahal and set a series record of nearly 23 million viewers.

Given that, Trump Hotels' financial woes are "not an issue for us," said Jeff Zucker, president of NBC's Entertainment, News and Cable Group.

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