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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Trump Taj Mahal closes after 26 years

In this April 5, 1990, file photo, Donald Trump stands next to a genie’s lamp as the lights of his Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort light up during ceremonies to mark its opening in Atlantic City, N.J. (Mike Derer / Associated Press)
By Amy S. Rosenberg Tribune News Service

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The storied but hobbled Trump Taj Mahal shut its doors early Monday after 26 years of operation in this resort city, as striking casino workers chanted and massed one last time on the 102nd day of their strike and vowed, “We’ll be back.”

The strikers held a moment of silence at the moment the casino closed. They then walked en masse toward the doors and stuck their big poster, signed by nearly 1,000 members of Unite Here Local 54, proclaiming “We held the line against Wall Street’s attack on the American worker,” into the revolving doors.

“Tick Tock Scab,” read another sign. The other signs targeted Carl Icahn, the billionaire who took control of the company once run by Donald Trump but failed to negotiate a union deal.

Inside the casino, the last hand of blackjack was held shortly after 5 a.m., with dealer Jim Stewart beating out casino closing regular Shelly Orloff on the final hand, with an 18.

Stewart said he was proud to be the final dealer in a place he viewed as his home.

“You’re the last one, Jimmy,” his supervisor called out. “You were always willing to stay.”

“That’s it,” he replied, “the sole survivor.”

In the end, it was an odd little asterisk – the last trace of the Trump name in Atlantic City closing down even as the man himself was enmeshed in a battle on a much larger stage.

At one time, to listen to Trump, you couldn’t imagine a spotlight bigger than the one shone by the glittering chandeliers and vaulted mirrors of the Taj Mahal, where in 1990, Trump strode with Michael Jackson to herald the “eighth wonder of the world.”

But the Trump Taj Mahal, late in life, put up little resistance.

Just two blackjack tables and a craps table held gamblers in the wee hours before the closure of the casino floor. Guests had checked out earlier. A few striking casino workers held court out on the boardwalk. A security guard left with some odd cartoon signs with Trump caricatures.

Many employees, union and nonunion, believe Icahn will reopen the property in the spring. They point to ongoing renovations and the simple cost of mothballing the property, estimated by the union to be in excess of $33 million a year.

It is not Trump but Icahn who the workers blame for the closure. Icahn and the union could not reach agreement on health care benefits. Icahn, who took control of the casino in its bankruptcy, refused to offer the workers at the Taj the same benefits he was paying workers at the Tropicana, which he also owns.

The Taj, which opened in April 1990, is the fifth casino to close in Atlantic City since 2014. It follows the Atlantic Club, Showboat, Trump Plaza and Revel. Showboat has reopened as a non-casino hotel. The casino death throes, with the post-mortem on the boardwalk before the early morning cameras, the sun rising over the ocean, has become a familiar ritual in this town, sometimes punctuated by Mayor Don Guardian riding by on his bicycle.

Heavily leveraged, it needed to bring in more than $1 million a day to keep afloat. It was in chapter 11 bankruptcy within a year.

Trump, as he himself has reminded the nation, had left any meaningful involvement in Atlantic City by 2009. For years, he dominated its skyline and its headlines, fighting with widows for their houses, scheming against rival casino moguls, working city councilman, dogging mayors, financing the opposition to a tunnel that he felt would benefit rival casino owner Steve Wynn. The tunnel was built.

In the end, it was only his name and the brand that was left at the Taj Mahal, plus a few Trump bobbleheads for sale. But even the Taj Mahal had begun to distance itself from the Trump name. Its billboards in the post-bankruptcy Icahn era left out any mention of Trump.