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Hooters Casino Hotel Rolls Snake Eyes, Future Remains in Doubt

By Michael Sasso, Tampa Tribune, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 19, 2009--TAMPA -- Hooters celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, but it's not clear whether its Las Vegas casino will make it to its fourth.

Hooters Casino Hotel opened off the Las Vegas Strip 31/2 years ago, hoping to add spice to what had been the frumpy Hotel San Remo. Its ownership group includes some of the founders of the Hooters restaurant chain, which was launched in Clearwater in 1983.

The casino hasn't been nearly the success Hooters restaurants have been. On Friday, the business entity that controls Hooters Casino Hotel, named 155 East Tropicana LLC, announced it lost $5.1 million in the three months ended June 30. That compares with a profit of $2.4 million in the same three months in 2008.

Its revenue also fell dramatically. Revenue from casino, hotel and restaurants fell to $11.7 million in the quarter ended June 30, down from $16.4 million a year earlier.

What's more, its owners issued $130 million in bonds in 2005 to open the casino hotel, and it has defaulted on those bonds. It missed April's payment to bondholders and expects to miss October's payment, Friday's filing states.

This week, Deborah Pierce, the chief financial officer of 155 East Tropicana LLC, said the company is negotiating with bondholders. She directed further questions to the company's president, Mike Hessling, who could not be reached for comment.

According to its financial report Friday, Hooters Casino Hotel has been hit with a host of problems in the past couple of years. Among other things, it blames its financial troubles on the housing bust, rising unemployment, fewer air travelers to Las Vegas and less spending by business and leisure customers.

Clark County, where Vegas is located, has been doing road work along Tropicana Avenue, which has hurt the casino's foot traffic, the filing states.

The fate of Hooters Casino Hotel seems to be in question.

Bankruptcy remains an option if the company can't restructure debt or get new financing, according to the financial filing, and the company warned that its ability to continue as a "going concern" remains in doubt.

Reporter Michael Sasso can be reached at (813) 259-7865.


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