Buyer sought for Showboat in Atlantic City

WAYNE PARRY / ASSOCIATED PRESS Caesars Entertainment announced last week it would be closing the Showboat casino on Aug. 31.

ATLANTIC CITY - Caesars Entertainment Corp. is open to selling the Showboat to save the casino hotel from closure, the company confirmed Tuesday.

"We're willing to sell if we receive a reasonable offer from a responsible buyer," spokesman Gary Thompson said. "We've received some expressions of interest from a number of groups and are reviewing them."

Caesars announced June 26 that the Mardi Gras-themed Showboat was seeing its last summer. Its 2,100 employees received notices the following day that the casino planned to close Aug. 31.

Unite Here Local 54, the casino workers' union representing about 900 of Showboat's employees, will stage a protest Wednesday - starting at 5 p.m. at Brighton Park, just off the Boardwalk - over the planned closure. Union president Bob McDevitt said the workers planned to deliver a petition to Caesars to sell Showboat.

McDevitt, who called Showboat's closure "a criminal act" when it was announced, welcomed a possible sale.

"They should have been willing to do that from the start," he said. "They are moving in the right direction.

"To their credit, Caesars has confirmed there are [potential] buyers," McDevitt said. "We have been saying that all along, that if they are willing to sell at market value, and if there are buyers interested, then they should sell it and keep the property running as a profitable casino, which it is. We're hopeful."

Showboat is one of four Atlantic City casinos owned by Caesars. Its sister properties include Caesars and Bally's on the Boardwalk, and Harrah's in the Marina District next to the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

Before announcing the planned shutdown of Showboat, Caesars CEO Gary Loveman stated in a quarterly earnings call on May 7 that Atlantic City is an underperforming market with too many casinos.

Thompson said the company started getting inquiries for a possible Showboat sale shortly after announcing the intent to close it.

He said he could not name any of the parties that have reached out because they requested confidentiality.

For Showboat to remain open as a casino as well as a hotel, Thompson said, any interested buyer would need to have a New Jersey casino license.

"There's no guarantee the casino would remain open, because if a potential purchaser wanted to operate the property as a casino resort, the purchaser would have to get licensed by New Jersey regulators," he said. "A purchaser could run it as a hotel only."

If no deal is reached by Aug. 31, Thompson said, the casino will close that day.

"I would rather see the whole thing saved," said Melanie Gillespie, 37, of Absecon, a longtime Showboat cocktail server who started there when she was 19.

"Even if you're just talking about the casino floor, you are still looking at a lot of workers without jobs," she said. "The idea is to save all jobs."

Gillespie spoke earlier in the day on the Boardwalk in front of Showboat, alongside McDevitt and local, state, and federal politicians, during a news conference over the potential impact of Showboat's closure on Atlantic City and its workers.

Assemblyman Chris A. Brown (R., Atlantic) announced a package of bills to spur development in the struggling resort, including one to encourage casino companies that are considering closing properties to make every effort to sell to willing casino operators.

"When a corporation like Caesars closes a profitable casino in Atlantic City while they choose to build a new $880 million casino in New York, it hurts our middle class, working men and women, mars the image of Atlantic City, and breaks its promise to the state," he said.

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