As sports betting in New Jersey continues to reach new heights, one longstanding property has yet to enjoy the rewards.

Emphasize “yet.”

The NJ sports betting industry, thanks in large part to football season, has blossomed. Atlantic City casinos old and new have tapped into the market for additional revenue streams while using it as the foundation for AC’s revitalizationTwo months after the most-recent retail sportsbook opened along the Boardwalk, one more appears on the way.

Tropicana Atlantic City will reportedly open its William Hill US sportsbook later this week.

And for the casino, legalized sports betting is another step farther from its former despair.

Tropicana’s humble beginning

The Trop opened in 1981 as part of a barrage of casinos taking root in Atlantic City, coming after the likes of Resorts, CaesarsBally’s and Harrah’s.

Two years earlier, Ramada purchased Tropicana Resort & Casino in Las Vegas for $70 million to Ramada. The new parent company developed its AC property and opened in November 1981.

Another expansion in 1988 included an indoor amusement center that led to the renamed TropWorld Casino and Entertainment Resort. After Aztar Corporation, a division of Ramada, took control, a new wave of demand warranted another rebranding.

As a 600-room hotel tower rose in the mid-’90s, Aztar renovated the casino area to make room for poker, keno, and horse race simulcasting. The amusement center became collateral damage and closed. As such, and with more focus on the gaming side of things, the property again was renamed, this time as Tropicana Casino & Resort Altantic City.

Even more expansion took place within the first few years of the new millennium. Another 500-room tower, along with a spacious parking garage and 22,000 square feet of convention space, was added to the property. A shopping mall cropped up. All to compete with newcomer Borgata while attempting to establish a Vegas-like atmosphere.

What goes up, however, must eventually come down. For Tropicana, the descent soon began.

New ownership, new problems

Columbia Sussex officially acquired Aztar for $2.75 billion in 2007. From the outset, Trop’s standing began to quake.

Within a few months after finalizing the purchase that January, Columbia cut its Tropicana AC staff by 15 percent. By November, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission began the process of renewing Tropicana’s casino license.

A month later, however, the commission denied the application for renewal, citing management’s “abysmal” regulatory compliance and “a lack of good character, honesty, and integrity.” The commission’s denial became the second time it had done so in 29 years.

The Tropicana company began battling bankruptcy.

Carl Icahn then rode in on his valiant steed.

New life comes to the Trop

Billionaire investor Icahn finalized controlling stake in Tropicana in 2010. He attempted to do the same with Trump Taj Mahal in 2016, though financial woes led to its closing and ensuing sale, setting up the eventual opening of Hard Rock Atlantic City.

The Trop was on the verge of destruction with woeful building conditions, insect infestations and waves of layoffs, on top of the loss of its casino license.

Icahn stepped in, grabbed the reins and poured $200 million into upgrades. By 2017, the Tropicana appeared back on track, becoming the area’s No. 2 casino in terms of gambling revenue.

“Tropicana was bankrupt and desperately needed new leadership,” Icahn told the Press of Atlantic City earlier this month.

“At that time, we identified this undervalued asset as being a perfect situation to deploy our modus operandi, by which we seek to acquire undervalued assets, nurture, guide and improve their condition and operations, and to ultimately greatly enhance value for all shareholders.”

A new era for Trop

The Icahn era ended in 2018. The billionaire investor sold to Reno-based Eldorado Resorts for $1.85 billion, which finalized in September.

Shortly after, though before it began slashing Tropicana’s online casino staff, Eldorado partnered with William Hill US to offer sports betting. As expected, Tropicana then followed suit.

One of three Atlantic City properties without a retail sportsbook (along with Hard Rock and Caesars, which has books at its two other AC locations), Tropicana is about to change that.

As part of the announcement, Tropicana General Manager Steve Callender divulged the casino’s sports betting plans.

“A brand new venue is being created to host sports betting in the North Tower Casino, with kiosks located throughout the property. We are excited to share more details about Tropicana Atlantic City’s sports book in the coming weeks.”

Last week, it was revealed that Tropicana (as well as Hard Rock) submitted a petition to obtain a transactional waiver to immediately begin retail and/or online NJ sports betting operations.

If approved, as Trop certainly anticipates considering the near-finished sportsbook, Tropicana would open Atlantic City’s seventh retail sportsbook.

And for a casino that has experienced and endured some of the biggest ups and demoralizing downs, for a property that still operates one of the more successful online casinos in New Jersey, the sports betting market could help Tropicana from once again taking a nosedive.

Grant Lucas

About

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.