ATLANTIC CITY -- It took more than two years, nearly $12 million in fees to lawyers and others and a billionaire's bargain-basement bid, but the Tropicana Casino and Resort has been salvaged by its sale to Carl Icahn.
The $200 million deal completed Monday marks the activist investor's return to Atlantic City, the nation's second-largest gambling market, and ends one of the most tortured casino sales in U.S. history.
Icahn bought the casino out of bankruptcy for 80 percent less than what it was expected to fetch before the recession hit.
The relief inside the casino's executive offices was palpable when a lawyer confirmed that the final papers had been signed and money wired to complete the purchase.
"I'm thrilled," said Mark Giannantonio, who will stay president under Icahn's ownership. "I don't think anyone expected it to take 27 months."
In a statement, Icahn acknowledged the challenges facing Atlantic City from slot machines -- and soon, table games -- in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.
"There will undoubtedly be tough sledding ahead for Atlantic City, especially in light of the increasing competition from neighboring states," Icahn said. "However, I believe that Atlantic City, with its beautiful beaches, can again become a premier destination resort."
For that to happen, casinos must invest not only in their own resorts but also in events to draw gamblers from competing states, he said.
Last year, the Tropicana, which opened in 1981, took in $356.7 million, ranking it seventh among Atlantic City's 11 casinos.
New Jersey casino regulators stripped the Tropicana's former owners of their casino license in December 2007, citing less than a year of poor performance including nearly 1,000 layoffs that left the gambling hall dirty and understaffed.
In January, Icahn received regulatory approval to take control of nine Tropicana Entertainment LLC casinos in Nevada, Indiana, Louisiana and Mississippi as they emerged from a separate bankruptcy.
He also bought the unfinished Fontainebleau Las Vegas on the Strip earlier this year.
And last December, Icahn bought the first-lien debt in Trump Entertainment Resorts' three Atlantic City casinos. Now, he and banker Andy Beal are battling a group that includes Donald Trump to become the owners when that company emerges from bankruptcy.
Giannantonio said the casino doesn't plan a major expansion, preferring to update "areas that look dated and addressing some of our hotel-room product."