Fourth Taj President Confident Despite Predecessors' Fates

Posted: August 18, 1991

ATLANTIC CITY — The latest executive Donald Trump hired to right his reeling Taj Mahal casino doesn't fear the fate that befell his four predecessors.

"I've never worried about that kind of thing," Taj President Dennis Gomes said in a 90-minute interview. "I've always enjoyed the challenge of going to a situation that's not doing well."

Since the Taj opened in April 1990, Trump has tried four presidents to steer the city's largest casino through a minefield of high debts and lower- than-expected revenues.

In March, Gomes became the latest would-be rescuer when he accepted a contract at $850,000 a year, backed by $650,000 cash deposited with a Nevada bank to assure severance pay if he is fired.

Gomes, 47, had been president of the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, where he lured many high-rollers, defying predictions that the Nugget would suffer after its parent company opened the lavish Mirage casino on the Strip in late 1989. His old boss, Steve Wynn, is suing Gomes for breach of contract for quitting. Gomes declined to comment on the litigation.

The jury is still out, but Gomes said the Taj's second quarter provided proof that a turnaround had begun. He is confident even though the casino lost

$16.3 million, compared with a $14.4 million loss in the second quarter of 1990.

Operating cash flow - profits before interest and depreciation - rose from $23.9 million to $24.8 million. Cost-cutting slashed expenses about $16 million.

The Taj filed bankruptcy July 16 under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. Its bankruptcy plan swaps half of Trump's equity in the property for reduced interest rates on $675 million of mortgage bonds.

"From a long-term standpoint . . . the only real thing anybody should look at is operating profit," Gomes said, citing a $3 million jump in July compared with July 1990. While operating profit rose, it was still less than what had been projected in the Taj budget.

A 2.7 percent gross gaming revenue decline in July followed Gomes' decision to cut some junket programs that he said cost more than they were worth.

"I could play the tricks and bring in tons of revenue," Gomes said. "I don't think there's any real integrity there."

Nick Ribis, the head of Trump's three Atlantic City casinos and one non- casino hotel, said the Trump Organization is pleased with Gomes' work. "He knows his stuff," Ribis said.

Gomes has lowered some prices in response to competition.

For example, the neighboring Merv Griffin's Resorts Casino Hotel offers a $4.99 buffet that was drawing customers away from the Taj, which charged $14.99.

Lowering the Taj prices for breakfast and lunch to $4.99 and for a seafood dinner to $9.99 has boosted restaurant traffic from 1,500 people a day to 4,200, Gomes said.

Gomes is a black belt and credits karate for contributing to his own sense of self-discipline and confidence. "You know you can handle a lot," he said. ''It also teaches you to respect the power of other people."

As for his own boss, who has been known to launch into a tirade or two, Gomes said, "It's a challenge because he's very demanding and a perfectionist. He challenges your ability."

Gomes once directed the Nevada Gaming Control Board's Audit Division and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement's special investigations unit.

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