Monday, July 04, 2005

Apprentice TV Show star Trump still gambling on Indiana

From his 26th-floor Manhattan office, Donald Trump professes his love and respect for Indiana. For his riverboat in Gary. For state gambling regulators. And even for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
Trump, the king of superlatives, has some making up to do.
He couldn't deliver on a deal to build a casino in economically depressed French Lick, delaying the project for a year. He racked up a $20 million tax bill with the state of Indiana, which he's paying back. The performance of his riverboat in Gary -- which is in need of a facelift -- has been sluggish.
But Trump, who is fresh from a bankruptcy court reorganization that will save his casino company $102 million a year in debt payments, said in an interview that he's committed to maintaining a gambling presence in Indiana. Despite published reports saying he was negotiating to sell his Gary riverboat, Trump says he's keeping his boat and is planning to invest millions to spruce it up.
"We have a boat in Indiana that does very well. It's in good shape," Trump said from his office in Trump Tower on New York City's Fifth Avenue. "We have planned to increase our investment on the boat."
By how much, he wouldn't say.
But even as his casino company shifts its focus to shoring up three casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., Trump maintains he doesn't want to leave Gary.
"I love Gary. It's really a beautiful city. Not many people know that," Trump said of the city once known as the murder capital of the nation.
While we're talking about love, Trump loves French Lick, too.
Trump, a guy used to winning, thought the odds were against him when he bid in 2003 to open the state's 11th casino.
The key matchup for this deal pitted a mega-rich guy from New York against a hometown basketball legend. Trump bet on Larry Bird to win.
"I said it really doesn't matter that we apply because there's no way we're going to get it," said Trump, as he sat surrounded by pictures of celebrities he's hung out with (like Miss USA contestants) and trophies he's collected (such as from golf tournaments).
"I never thought we would win. I was stunned," said Trump, who labeled his support for the project "modest."
This seems like a strange confession of self-doubt, until he confidently says: "It just shows you the power of the Trump name."
In the end, six months after winning the right to the casino license, Trump's company backed out after gambling regulators made demands the company couldn't meet.
Although he doesn't quite "love" the Indiana Gaming Commission, he does profess "great respect" for its members, adding that they have been "so professional."
During the interview, the French Lick deal was the only mistake he acknowledged. Trump said he should have backed out sooner.
"To do French Lick in light of this very big deal from a financial standpoint -- it wasn't exactly ideal," he said.
Although he says his casino would have been very successful, Trump admits doubt about the long-term survival of a casino in the middle of Southern Indiana, with no close large cities. The license recently was awarded to the Blue Sky Casino, which includes a partnership between real estate developer Lauth Group and a nonprofit group affiliated with Bloomington-based medical device maker Cook Inc.
Trump acknowledged the criticism that his involvement delayed the project, which the residents of French Lick deem critical to their economic survival.
"It was my own fault," he said. "I loved the people. I would have pulled out much earlier. I felt so guilty."
But it's a long way from French Lick to Manhattan. Crunch the numbers, and his casino company is just 1 percent of his net worth. He reiterates that at least three times in 40 minutes.
"Now, I have a company that's a very strong company with a strong cash flow. The company has a lot of money," said Trump, whose casino company has gone through bankruptcy reorganization twice. "The company will spend a lot of money."
What he'd rather be talking about is his successful real estate development business.
On his desk in his corner office overlooking Central Park is a two-page newspaper spread on his new Chicago residential skyscraper, one of the tallest in the world, he said.
Also handy are a stack of reprints from Crain's New York Business magazine, listing the area's largest privately held companies.
At the top?
Of course, it's Trump Organization, with revenue of $10.4 billion in 2004.
He'll gladly give you a copy.
During the interview, he fielded two calls -- one about a legal matter (he pushed for a re-trial in a case he didn't talk about). The other came from Tom Brady, quarterback of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Trump, who started talking women and golf with the star quarterback, quickly declared the conversation off the record.
Trump -- always aware of his audience -- knew Indianapolis residents might harbor some ill will toward the quarterback, who has led his team in crucial playoff victories over the Colts.
So Trump asked his assistant to get Indianapolis' own Peyton Manning on the phone.
But Manning, who played in a golf tournament with Trump last year, couldn't be reached. A message was left.
But Manning didn't call as the minutes ticked away.
Trump asked again for his assistant to get ahold of Manning. Still no luck.
Unhappy with defeat, however, Trump invited The Star back to his office several minutes after the interview was finished.
On speaker phone -- as more evidence of the power of the Trump name -- was Manning.
Another round of golf soon? Trump asks.
Not this year, Manning replies.
"I love Peyton Manning and Tom Brady," Trump says. "They're both friends of mine.
"I love champions."


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