Cordish joins in gaming venture

Developer teams up with resorts executive

November 28, 2007|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore developer Cordish Co. is teaming up with a prominent gaming industry executive to run gaming projects both in the United States and internationally.

The Cordish Co., which has been positioning itself to become a more active player in the growing gambling business, has formed a management company with Dennis Gomes, who has managed casino and hotel properties in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and previously regulated gaming in New Jersey and Nevada, where one of his investigations became the basis for the Martin Scorsese film Casino.

"He is clearly one of the top executives in gaming in the U.S., and we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have him join us," Chairman David Cordish said in an e-mail yesterday. He added that he has known Gomes for many years.

Gomes, who announced the new venture, said he will be president and chief executive of Gomes + Cordish Gaming Management LLC , a Maryland-based limited liability company. No decision has been made as to where the firm's corporate headquarters will be, Cordish said.

The new company's first project will be operating a $200 million slot machine casino at Indiana Downs, a horse racing track outside Indianapolis that Cordish Co. announced last month it would develop and run for majority track owner Oliver Family Trusts. It was the first agreement Cordish has made to operate a gaming operation.

Cordish also is vying to build a casino and hotel at the Kansas City Speedway in Kansas with partner International Speedway Corp. and, if awarded, that project would also be run by Gomes + Cordish.

Neither Cordish nor Gomes would comment on additional projects the firm might pursue.

"We're starting the management company to operate casinos wherever we find opportunities, and it's basically the combination of my casino-operating background and Cordish Co.'s development background in both the casino area and the retail, dining, entertainment area," Gomes said.

One gaming analyst said the new company is likely to pursue casino resort redevelopment in Atlantic City, which is on the verge of a Las Vegas-style transformation. That strategy would make sense because of Gomes' success running casinos in Atlantic City and Cordish Co.'s strength in remaking deteriorating urban areas into entertainment destinations, said Joe Fath, vice president and equity analyst at T. Rowe Price Associates in Baltimore.

In Atlantic City, Cordish owns The Walk, a $110 million retail project.

"Cordish is a great developer and brings a lot of skill to the table when it comes to development," Fath said. "The goal is for [Gomes] to cobble together the best group of partners to go in there and pursue something bigger."

That might mean trying to acquire and redevelop existing casino hotels, such as those owned by Donald Trump, Fath said. Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. had been considering offers for its three Atlantic City casino hotels, but decided in July not to pursue the sales.

Gomes previously was president of Trump's Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.

David Cordish said the company's gaming division, which developed successful hotel and casino projects in Tampa and Hollywood, Fla., for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, is negotiating to take over and/or manage existing facilities, but he did not elaborate. Gaming is one of Cordish Co.'s three divisions, along with real estate development - which has nine new projects in various phases - and a group that runs and owns restaurants, bars, clubs and performance venues.

Gomes had been president of Steve Wynn's Golden Nugget in Las Vegas in the late 1980s , before being hired away by Trump in 1991. Gomes was credited with nearly doubling operating profits at Taj Mahal during his tenure.

He later joined Aztar Corp. to run the Tropicana Casino and Resorts in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. At the Tropicana in Atlantic City, he led development of the Quarter, the first retail, dining, entertainment complex to be attached to an Atlantic City casino. It opened in 2004.

Since leaving Tropicana in May 2005, he has run Gomes Gaming Management, a consulting business based in Atlantic City.

"He's one of the best-known operators in the business, known more for Atlantic City than Vegas," Fath said.

But he is known as well for being a gaming regulator and got his start in Las Vegas, where he had been a law enforcement officer for the Nevada Gaming Control Board in the early 1970s. He headed a division responsible for detecting skimming and investigating organized crime involvement at Nevada casinos.

In one of his biggest cases, he uncovered organized crime control and skimming at the Stardust hotel and casino and led late-night raids that became the basis for the movie Casino. Gomes moved on to become chief of special investigations for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, where he developed internal control regulations for New Jersey's casinos.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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