Nothing Certain For Hotel Visitors

ATLANTIC CITY – Fred and Ruth Valastro left Tropicana Casino and Resort for the bus back to South Glens Falls, N.Y., with an uneasy feeling: Their luggage remained behind in a hotel tower still closed by authorities.

Tropicana officials could not say when they might receive their belongings, Ruth Valastro said. “They have no idea They have to wait for the security to tell them when it’s OK to go in. I guess they’ll send it to us. We left some things over here and some things over there (in the room), and you worry about whether they’ll pick up everything,” she said.

Uncertainty and gambling coexisted inside Tropicana one day after the fatal garage collapse at the casino’s expansion construction site. Tropicana’s 604-room West Tower hotel and existing self-park garage might not open until next week, said Robert Haddock, president of Tropicana parent Aztar Corp. The problem: An adjacent freestanding concrete wall needs to be stabilized.

Hundreds of visitor and employee cars remain in the self-park garage. “I’m supposed to go home today.” Brooklyn resident Ellen Distasi said Friday. “I hope they give us a room tonight if we get stuck.”

Tropicana scrambled to accommodate both captive customers and those navigating cars through the city blocks closed by yellow police tape in quest of a parking spot. Tropicana was able to resume valet· parking service through its Belmont and Morris avenues porte-cochere entrances.

“We’ve got about 1,400 (parking) spaces available at various surface lots. Employees and cops are out there directing them. People are still coming. It’s kind of amazing to me,” said Dennis Gomes, Aztar’s president of resort operations.

Andy and Rita Mele drove down from Queens on Thursday for a two-night stay at Tropicana. Unable to get near it, they parked at Trump Plaza.

“We did play at Trump Plaza – and won $214. Then we walked down the Boardwalk with our luggage,” Rita Mele said.

Tropicana’s business on Friday was slow but not bad, all things considered. All casino-hotel functions were open and fully staffed, Gomes said.

The neighboring Atlantic City Hilton came to Tropicana’s aid by offering use of its bus terminal, employee shuttle buses and an entire surface parking lot for customers.

“They were incredible,” Gomes said. “Wally Barr (CEO of Hilton parent Park Place Entertainment) called and said, “During the day, we’re competitors, but when things like this happen, we’re brothers.”

The Valastros had to hike five blocks to the Hilton to catch their bus, but weren’t complaining. “I feel bad for what happened,” Ruth Valastro said.

Normal bus service will resume at 10 a.m. today, spokeswoman Maureen Siman said.

The disaster scene outside did not appear to cause trepidation among customers. “I’ve been coming here for over 20 years. If there were any danger, they’d let us know,” said Gwendolyn Bent, who arrived by limousine from Queens.

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