Trump™: asset or liability?

By David McKee ~ May 3rd, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

If you’d like to wager on Donald Trump‘s sham presidential “campaign” and you like long odds Paddy Power is the place for you. It’s taking action on the 2012 presidential race and Trump is now a 33-to-1 shot, along with some distinguished company. Would Trump bet on himself or roll the dice on the 150-to-1 chance given to someone named Fred Karger (who I confess I’ve never heard of before). I’d toast Trump’s chances with his branded “Mood Infusion Beverage” were it not for the fear of whose mood I was having infused: Would I get the urge to make fish lips, dye my hair orange and utter gross on-air comments about wanting to shtup my daughter Ivanka?

Now that Trump has added speech-impaired people and the LGBT community to the customer subsets he’s gratuitously offended, he’s becoming less of an asset and more of a liability to Trump Entertainment Resorts. (His recourse to golf rhetoric reminds me of the occasion when Trump leaned into an interviewer’s face, and declared through that porcine squint of his, “I played Steve [Wynn] at golf twice and beat him badly both times,” perhaps with wily stratagems like this. So you vanquished a legally blind man and then bragged about it? Stay classy, Don.)

Of course, when you consider that he’d been through two Atlantic City bankruptcies by 1992 (see helpful Trumpline of marriages, insolvencies, etc.) — at a time when the Boardwalk was on a strong upward trajectory — how much more of a liability could Trump become? He’s not much of an asset for the dwindling number of casinos that bear his name.  Contrary to his public pronouncements, there’s been no evidence of a turnaround at the Trump-branded casinos. If Lasry took those five not-so-magic letters of the marquee, maybe even tried to franchise with another operator, could someplace like Trump Plaza (-$12 million in cash flow last year) do any worse? Tilman Fertitta obviously doesn’t think so: He’s dumping the name of Trump Marina (right) faster than you can say “Golden Nugget.” Knowing that he’s have to go Trump-less obviously didn’t discourage Fertitta from paying $38 million for the place, which he ultimately chose over the Atlantic City Hilton, the Colony Capital discard that’s currently The Casino Most Likely to Close, an unenviable distinction.

If Trump actually decides to throw his combover into the ring, he puts CEO Robert Griffin and owner Marc Lasry in a pickle. The Trumpster holds 5% of the company with an option to buy another 5% in return for making promotional appearances and not taking his name off the buildings. As unlikely as an actual Trump candidacy is, what if he gets serious … or as serious as this hypocrite can get about anything? Lasry would basically be paying Trump to not discharge his duties, for however many weeks or months — perhaps even a year — as long as his con game persists.

The question is begged in Das Donald’s most recent New York Times interview; Lasry also has a personal-services contract with Ivanka Trump and he may have to invoke it much more than he planned. Lasry, who has reason to be less than thrilled with his pitchman’s recent antics, is maintaining a dignified silence. He’s made a Faustian pact, and it would be uglier to try and get out of it than to button one’s lip and wait out the media tempest. But how typical of Trump to go through the Chapter 11 procedure with Avenue Capital, line up sinecures for Ivanka and himself, then spring this PR headache on the company. In the next book he “writes,” look for Trump to brag about how he scammed Lasry, further proof of his superior intellect — sort of like Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.

If it’s any consolation (and it won’t be for Lasry or Griffin), the value of Trump Resorts has fallen 80% since the Lasry-led takeover. According to Barron’s, Trump Plaza would have to perform at break-even levels (extremely unlikely) and Trump Taj Mahal would need a 150% increase in cash flow (merely improbable) for investors to see any return on their $225 million. Will this company ever hit rock bottom? The point of impact appears imminent.

Another firm caught between the devil and the deep blue Trump is Groupon, which is trying to perform an uneasy balancing act. While it’s distancing itself from the Sunday-night sitcom Celebrity Apprentice, it’s also offering cut-price deals for Trump Plaza hotel rooms. Groupon is trying to draw a distinction between its connection to a Trump-promoting TV show and a Trump-promoted casino but it’s a nuance so fine the company might as well save its breath. Broadly speaking, TV advertisers like their Trump connection just fine, not least because of the demographics cited here …


For someone who’s compensated with millions in stock ($3 million, at its depleted value) on the understanding that he will help Trump Resorts dig itself out of the hole (one that Trump himself burrowed), The Donald seems to more interested in swinging a wrecking ball about, not caring who it hits. Ad Week has done some thinking on the matter and concludes that the only brand which interests the man is Donald J. Trump. Even if his “triumph of leverage,” the illusion of mogul-dom has been convincing to many, it’s also somewhat depressing that today’s aspirational goal is to be a raging blowhard. We’re a long way from the days of Horatio Alger aren’t we?

Bottom line: If you’re Donald Trump, you’re an asset to yourself. If you’re Trump Entertainment Resorts, he’s little more than an expensive, uncomfortable and cumbersome piece of furniture.

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