Mark Giannantonio has one of the toughest jobs in the Atlantic City casinos. As the president and COO of the Tropicana Casino Resort, Giannantonio must operate his property in the face of criticism from the media, politicians and former employees. A longtime Trop employee, Giannantonio was named president when Fred Buro was relieved of his duties several months ago. In January, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission considers a permanent license for Columbia Sussex, the owner of the Trop. With hundreds of layoffs and cost cuts, some will oppose the license, most notably, the Atlantic City culinary union, Local 54. Giannantonio disputes claims that more layoffs are planned, and discusses the improvements, marketing changes and growth plans for the Tropicana. Giannantonio spoke with Global Gaming Business Publisher Roger Gros from his office at the Tropicana in October. To hear the full version of this interview, go to www.ggbmagazine.com, click on the GGB Podcast button and scroll down to this interview.
GGB: One of the justifications for the changes that have been made at the Tropicana since Columbia Sussex took over is that the company has a different business model than a traditional casino company. Can you explain what that means?
Giannantonio: Sure. The transition took place on January 3. Any time one company takes over another company, there’s bound to be your ups and downs. In this case, there were significant changes. We looked at every department and attempted to “right-size” them relative to our revenues. That’s never easy because you’re affecting people’s lives. The good news is, the majority of that process is over.
Now, we’re focusing on our employees, our property and our customers. We think we’ll be able to bring the property to new levels.
You are an example of the many loyal employees you have here at the Trop. You’ve been here 20 years and many other employees are day-one employees. What are you doing to show your appreciation for their continuous service and loyalty to the property?
Without a doubt, and I can say unequivocally, we have the best and most loyal employees in Atlantic City. It’s amazing to see how many employees have been here 15, 20 and 25 years. They are very dedicated. During the time of transition when we were getting the negative press, it was our employees who stuck by us and continued to serve the guests with first-class service, even when we were being told we weren’t a first-class resort. That was a lot of rhetoric and there was no basis for that argument.
The permanent license for Columbia Sussex is up for approval in January. Local 54 of UNITE HERE has announced it will oppose it. What will you do to convince the Casino Control Commission that you should be granted a license?
There are thousands of people who are working hard to make this the best casino resort in Atlantic City, and in the country, to be honest.
We have thousands of people who come to this property every day who enjoy their stay and don’t even hear the rhetoric. We meet and exceed their expectations.
So there’s no basis for a denial of the license. We have a more entrepreneurial spirit than the other public companies, as demonstrated by the chairman of our company, Mr. (Bill) Yung.
We believe we’re going to get licensed and the employees and management team are working hard to make this property a success.
Is it an advantage or disadvantage being a private company?
Clearly, it would be an advantage if we had another property in Atlantic City or even in a nearby jurisdiction. There would be synergies we could use.
We’re owned by a very diversified company. We own over 80 hotels and 14 casinos. And there are advantages to being owned by a company that is so diversified. There were things we were able to do on the hotel side, for example, that helped to improve the customer experience. On the casino side, we are looking to leverage the business at our other casinos to bring customers to our property here and vice versa. We’re just tapping into that at this point.
Tell us about some of the physical changes that have taken place at the Trop since the company took over.
In May of ’07, we completed our South Tower room renovations, of about 500 rooms. This project turned out to be very nice and was completed just prior to the summer. These rooms are geared toward our slot players because it’s right above the South Tower casino floor.
Simultaneously, we renovated the South Tower casino floor, giving it the look and the feel of the Quarter. That’s our goal, to bring that look and feel to the older parts of the property. We’re going to take that same look and introduce it to the North Tower casino floor where our table game area is. Hopefully that will be completed by February of ’08.
We’re also going to build a fabulous center bar in that North Tower area, which will drive people into the casino from the Quarter and totally renovate our signature restaurant Il Verdi and our casual restaurant the Seaside Cafe.
There were plans to build a tower on Belmont Avenue, about half a block away from the Trop. Are those plans still on the drawing board?
Mr. Yung would like to add another tower to our property and we’re discussing this option with a few individuals in town, but that takes time.
We’ve got several new mega-casinos coming to town over the next few years. How will the Trop compete with them?
I’ll go back to what I said earlier. We do have the best employees in Atlantic City, and as long as we take care of our guests and exceed their expectations, we’re going to do very well here. We have a great building. The Quarter has been key for us to be able to take our customers to the next level.
These projects are going to be fantastic for the city and for us. It will be just like when the Borgata came into the market. I was very optimistic that the Borgata would help the city grow and that’s exactly what happened. These projects will do the same thing, and as a result will help us all succeed.