The game is almost over for Showboat and Trump Plaza, two Atlantic City, N.J., casinos that are slated to close over the coming weeks. That is, unless state regulators require them to remain open for four additional months to give them time to find buyers, which is exactly what three Atlantic City-area state legislators want, according to a letter they've sent to the Casino Control Commission.
Showboat's expected Aug. 31 shutdown and Trump Plaza's Sept. 16 closure is "simply not enough time for potential buyers to do the appropriate research that acquisition of either property may require," wrote State Senator Jim Whelan (D), Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D) and Assemblyman Chris Brown (R). The legislators wrote that while the casino operators have followed the law in their notification process, the state has a "moral obligation" to help save the jobs of thousands of workers.
Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, Mazzeo and Brown asked the commission to order Showboat and Trump Plaza, whose parent companies both operate other Atlantic City casinos, to keep the doors open to give buyers a real opportunity to do the necessary due diligence.
Commission Chairman Matthew Levinson, while sympathetic to their request, said he wasn't sure if his agency can do anything to delay the closures.
"While our authority is broad in some respects and our ability to direct business decisions of the casinos is limited under the Casino Control Act, the current circumstances are unprecedented and present novel issues which we have been and will continue to review," Levinson said in a statement.
Trump Entertainment, whose other Atlantic City property is the Taj Majal, declined to comment for this story as did a spokeswoman for Caesar's, the largest Atlantic City casino operator.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump hasn't been involved in the day-to-day management of the casinos that bear his name though he retains a small position in them. He has been quoted in the press as saying he was glad to be out of the business. Trump Plaza has struggled for years and might have a better chance attracting a buyer if the sale process wasn't so rushed, says Whelan, who was Atlantic City mayor from 1990 to 2000.
"Trump Plaza, by all accounts, needs a significant amount of renovation work," Whelan said in interview. "We have talked to people about the sales. My sense is that they would like more time."
About two-dozen casinos have been built in recent years within driving distance of Atlantic City, oversaturating the market. As a result, gaming revenue in the Jersey Shore town plunged 45 percent between 2006 and 2013 to $2.86 billion. Even the town's biggest supporters, such as Whelan, admit the city's casino industry will never reach those heights again.
Analyst Alan Woinski, who has followed the industry for 30 years, told CBS MoneyWatch he didn't think the regulators could delay the closure of the Showboat or Trump Plaza.
"They can't say 'no you can't,'" said Woinski, who heads the consulting firm Gaming USA. "If anyone buys these properties, they're going to be in the exact same position as the previous owners."
Showboat, however, is a "decent property" that might attract a buyer, while Trump Plaza may have to be converted into a hotel if it hopes to survive, according to Woinski.
Caesar's was criticized for closing Showboat as it builds a new $750 million casino resort in Orange, N.Y., a decision Assemblyman Brown criticized in a recent press conference as "certainly not acting in good faith on behalf of the people of New Jersey."
Besides Showboat and Trump Plaza, the $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel filed for bankruptcy protection in June for the second time in as many years. If the property, which cost $2.6 billion to build, can't find a buyer, it will also have to close, forcing more than 3,000 people out of work. However, Woinski said Revel has been mismanaged and might do better under new owners.
Leaders in Atlantic City are scrambling to prevent such massive job losses and the prospect of large chunks of the city's famous Boardwalk filled with the remains of closed casinos.
"The worst thing that could happen," said Whelan, "would be for those properties to sit there and be vacant."