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April 19, 2014

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Jeff Simpson answers slams in a full-page ad taken out by the owner of the Tropicana

I was quite surprised by the full page color ad the Tropicana took out on page 2A of the Review-Journal on Thursday, slamming me, the column I wrote last week and the Culinary Union.

The Tropicana’s strange ad, which folks in the advertising business estimate cost the casino company about $16,000, is just another example of the incompetence of its Kentucky-based owners, Columbia Sussex Corp., and further proof that my columns taking the company to task have been right on target.

First, please indulge me in my response to the Tropicana ad.

The ad says my column is utter fiction.

I stand by the truth of my column and the sources who told me about the property’s payroll problems, as well as the dozens of folks who wrote and called after the column appeared to add to the litany of complaints I’d already received about how Columbia Sussex runs its six casinos in Nevada.

Second, the ad claims the Culinary Union concocted a story about paychecks that couldn’t be cashed and tricked me into reporting it.

That is not true. My first sources were two non-Culinary Tropicana workers who told me about the paycheck troubles.

Then three Culinary members who worked at the Trop not only confirmed what I had heard from my first two sources but also said there were more than 200 recent instances of workers being underpaid.

Third, the ad claimed that I failed to call the Tropicana to verify the workers’ claims.

That’s right, I didn’t call the Tropicana, but I have called the company’s headquarters in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., trying to speak to Columbia Sussex Chief Executive Bill Yung or his son Joe Yung, the company’s development director, at least six times since December, when Tropicana Atlantic City’s license was yanked by New Jersey gaming regulators.

They have never called me back. Nor have they had a company spokesman or nonstaff flack call me back.

My phone number and e-mail address are right at the bottom of my column, every week.

I don’t expect Columbia Sussex executives to like me or what I write about them, because I’ve been very critical of them.

But they deserve my criticism.

It’s my opinion — and the opinion of many folks with a lot of experience and success at the top of the gaming business — that Columbia Sussex’s strategy of cutting staff is doomed to fail.

It’s also my opinion that the Tropicana’s contract offer to the Culinary is an insult to the union and a recipe for disaster for the property.

The Trop’s contract offer asks the property’s 700 Culinary workers (down from 1,100 when Columbia Sussex bought the Tropicana) to give up their hard-won union health plans and guaranteed 40-hour workweeks, along with other insulting givebacks.

The union will never accept those terms, of course, at the Tropicana or anywhere else.

I’ve also written about the findings of the New Jersey regulators who refused to renew the license of Tropicana Atlantic City.

Their opinion’s conclusion about the Columbia Sussex executives was clear: “The applicants could have taken the time to educate themselves in what it takes to operate successfully here, or they could have hired and retained sufficient staff knowledgeable in those processes. They have done neither and must bear the consequence. So too must their applications fail for lack of good character, honesty and integrity and contumacious defiance of the regulatory process.”

It’s my opinion that Columbia Sussex flouted New Jersey gaming regulations and that Nevada regulators should file a formal complaint against the company, hold a public hearing and consider pulling its six Nevada casino licenses. I believe regulators would be justified in yanking the licenses.

And it is also my opinion that if Columbia Sussex quits spending its money on absurd newspaper ads, the incompetent operator might be able to rehire one of the hundreds of workers it foolishly let go.

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