Donald Trump Approved for State Gaming License

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Developer Donald Trump was approved Thursday by state regulators to hold a stake in the Riviera hotel-casino - but said the Las Vegas Strip resort is a foot-in-the-door licensing opportunity and doesn't figure in his future Nevada plans.

Following the state Gaming Commission's unanimous vote, Trump also said his plans don't include further Indian gambling ventures in California - for now. He said he wants to build a high-end condominium tower in Las Vegas, which may or may not have gambling, and is thinking about other possible deals in both southern and northern Nevada.

"Stay tuned," Trump said after the meeting when pressed by reporters for details. He said he could buy an existing property or build a new one, adding, "When we see the right deal in this state, we'll do it."

The Gaming Commission approved Trump and companies that he controls as part of a registration and suitability-finding process that would speed up any actual casino licensing in the future.

Repeating his Feb. 4 comments to the commission's investigative arm, the Gaming Control Board, Trump said "it's an honor to be here." He said he had lost many deals in previous years because of a state licensing process that can take more than a year.

Trump wasn't asked at either the board or commission meetings about his controversial activity in the state in the 1980s that led to legislation against "greenmailing" of Nevada casino corporations. There was brief discussion of a corporate bankruptcy in the 1990s at the board meeting but not at the commission meeting.

The greenmailing law was prompted in part by Trump's reported $31.7 million profit when casino-owning Bally Corp. bought back his 9.9 percent interest in the company in 1987. Trump also made a $35 million profit from an investment in casino-owning Holiday Corp.

"I don't call it greenmailing," Trump said after the Control Board meeting. "I was paid money for stock that I had."

The Nevada law was aimed at stopping entrepreneurs from buying up stock in public companies in hopes that the companies would then agree to buy back the stock at higher prices to avoid hostile takeovers.

Trump's chief financial officer, Frank McCarthy, told the commission that a deal earlier this month with an affiliate of Credit Suisse First Boston will provide $400 million for a recapitalization of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc., and that will "most definitely" help with any Nevada projects.

The affiliate, DLJ Merchant Banking Partners III LP, would become the majority shareholder in a renamed Trump International Corp. Trump said he'd continue as company chairman and remain a "significant" shareholder. He declined to say exactly how his percentage interest would change.

Trump said the deal, to be finalized by summer, "in one fell swoop" would reduce high-interest debt, improve his company's cash flow and allow for expansion. The company's consolidated net loss last year was $87.3 million. He expects that his three Atlantic City casinos, which faced new competition, higher taxes and a soft economy last year, will do better this year.

Trump paid about $2 million for shares in Riviera Holdings Corp. That put him barely over a 10 percent threshold subjecting investors to investigation and licensure by casino regulators.

The move was designed to start the state licensing process, Trump said, adding that he has little contact with Riviera executives and doesn't intend to expand on his involvement with the property.

Asked about his building plans, Trump said he favors a project such as his Trump towers in Manhattan, Chicago and elsewhere. There's "not a great chance" that it would include New Frontier owner Phil Ruffin of Las Vegas, he added.

Last spring, Trump and Ruffin had announced plans to build a $390 million, 60-story condominium on Ruffin's site just off the Strip near Fashion Show mall.

Regarding possible northern Nevada projects, Trump said "something could happen" although there's "nothing particular right now." Asked whether the Reno Hilton, now on the market, was one prospect, he added, "You never know. Stranger things have happened."

Questioned about further Indian casino management deals in California, Trump said that's a possibility but for now he's not going beyond the Trump 29 Casino in the Riverside area.