Opened with great fanfare in 1990 by Donald Trump, the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City has closed, displacing 3,000 workers and removing the final property bearing the Trump name from the city.
The resort now has seven operating casinos, down from a height of a dozen in its best days.
Taj Mahal owner Carl Icahn—Trump no longer had any financial interest—blamed losses at the property of “almost $350 million over just a few short years,” for the closure as well as a strike by about 1,000 of the casino’s workers which began July 1. Icahn announced about a month later that he would close the property saying there was “no path to profitability.”
Icahn and the city’s main casino workers union—Unite HERE of Local 54—where never able to settle a dispute over health care benefits for the workers. During a lengthy bankruptcy action in which Icahn gained control of the casino, a bankruptcy judge allowed then owners Trump Entertainment to cancel health and pension benefits with workers. The union represents about 1,000 employees, including cooks, bartenders, housekeepers and cocktail servers.
That set off an about two-yearlong battle between the union and Icahn, which included the union going out on strike in July. Picketers for the union were still in place when the casino closed.
According to the Associated Press, picketers placed an anti-Icahn poster at the casino’s main Boardwalk entrance that read “We held the line.”
The fact that the casino still bore the name of Trump, the Republican nominee for president, drew extra attention to the closing. “I felt they should have been able to make a deal,” Trump told the AP in a recent interview. «It›s hard to believe they weren›t able to make a deal.»
When Trump opened the property in 1990, he called it the “eighth wonder of the world” and the casino was the leading property in the resort until the Borgata opened in 2003.
The closing ends an era for Atlantic City as the last of the former Trump properties has closed.
The Trump Plaza casino—which is also owned by Icahn—closed in 2014 and the former Trump Castle casino is now controlled by Landry’s Inc., which re-branded it as the Golden Nugget.
Union officials put the blame for the closing squarely on Icahn.
“Everybody has their Popeye moment: ‘That’s all I can stands; I can’t stands no more,’” said Bob McDevitt, president of the union. “The workers made a choice that they weren’t going to accept benefits and terms of employment worse than everyone else’s. I applaud them. For the first time in 30 years, workers stood up to Carl Icahn and made him throw in the towel.” Icahn, however, said the closing came after he determined he had lost $350 million investing in the property and estimated he could lose an additional $100 million next year.
“Today is a sad day for Atlantic City,” Icahn said in a prepared statement. “Despite our best efforts, which included losing almost $350 million over just a few short years, we were unable to save the Taj Mahal. I am extremely grateful to all of the almost 3,000 employees for their hard work, especially those that stayed loyal to us during this trying period.”
Icahn has said after acquiring the property that he was planning to invest about $100 million to revitalize the property. He later balked on that promise out of concern that voters would approve the building of two new casinos outside of Atlantic City in a referendum on Election Day.
However, that referendum is now seen as likely to be defeated according to numerous polls, but Icahn and the union still could not reach an agreement.
“After our last offer to the union, which included medical, was rejected, it was simply impossible to find a workable path forward that would not have required funding additional investments and losses in excess of $100 million over the next year,” Icahn said in a statement published on his website. Union officials, however, continue to say they feel Icahn is simply trying to break their union and plans to re-open the property in the spring.
McDevitt told the AP that “there’s a strong possibility” that Icahn will keep the casino closed over the winter while conducting renovations and capital improvements, then attempt to reopen it in the spring as a non-union facility.
McDevitt said union job actions including picketing and a campaign to get convention groups to patronize other Atlantic City casinos would immediately resume if the Taj attempts to reopen without a union contract.
A bill in the New Jersey Legislature, however, would bar any casino license holder from closing a casino and then re-opening a casino under their license for at least five years. The bill was introduced by State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who has said it is aimed squarely at Icahn.
The bill would be retroactive to the start of the year.
Sweeney said casino owners “shouldn’t be able to misuse bankruptcy laws and gaming regulations in order to warehouse a license or take money out of the pockets of casino workers and strip them of benefits simply because they refuse to come to a labor agreement with their employees.”
However, the bill has been amended to say a license holder who closed a casino can open another or the same if the operator agrees to a contract with “a registered labor organization representing the casino hotel facility.”
Though Icahn has officially registered the closure with the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, there is no deadline for his surrendering his casino license, state officials said. The process could take months, according to a report in the Press of Atlantic City.
In 2014, the city saw four casinos close—the Atlantic Club, Showboat, Trump Plaza and Revel.
Most of those closings came from the city’s shrinking share of the Northeast casino market, which has seen competing casinos spring up in neighboring states.