Trump Taj Ma­hal closes af­ter 26 years

The Standard Journal - - ENTERTAINMENT - By WAYNE PARRY

AT­LANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Don­ald Trump opened the Trump Taj Ma­hal casino 26 years ago, call­ing it "the eighth won­der of the world."

But his friend and fel­low bil­lion­aire Carl Ic­ahn closed it Mon­day morn­ing, Oct. 10, mak­ing it the fifth ca­su­alty of At­lantic City's casino cri­sis.

The sprawl­ing Board­walk casino, with its soar­ing domes, minarets and tow­ers built to mimic the famed In­dian palace, shut down at 5:59 a.m., hav­ing failed to reach a deal with its union work­ers to re­store health care and pen­sion ben­e­fits that were taken away from them in bank­ruptcy court.

Nearly 3,000 work­ers lost their jobs, bring­ing the to­tal jobs lost by At­lantic City casino clos­ings to 11,000 since 2014.

Pick­eters af­fixed an anti-Ic­ahn poster that they had signed to the casino's main Board­walk en­trance door. It pro­claimed "We held the line."

"We held the line against a bil­lion­aire tak­ing from us!" said Marc Scit­tina, a food ser­vice worker at the Taj Ma­hal's player's club since shortly af­ter it opened in 1990. "This bat­tle has been go­ing on for two years."

The union went on strike July 1, and Ic­ahn de­cided to shut the place down a lit­tle over a month later, de­ter­min­ing there was "no path to prof­itabil­ity."

The Taj Ma­hal be­comes the fifth At­lantic City casino to go out of business since 2014, when four oth­ers shut their doors.

But this shut­down is dif­fer­ent: it in­volves a casino built by the Re­pub­li­can can­di­date for pres­i­dent, who took time out from the cam­paign trail to lament its demise.

"I felt they should have been able to make a deal," Trump told The As­so­ci­ated Press in a re­cent in­ter­view. "It's hard to be­lieve they weren't able to make a deal."

Chuck Baker, a cook at the Taj Ma­hal since the day it opened in April 1990, was on the picket line at the mo­ment it shut down. He was there when the doors opened and wanted to be there when they closed.

He led a mo­ment of si­lence among the oth­er­wise rowdy 200 or so pick­eters on the Board­walk out­side the casino.

"This didn't have to hap­pen," he said. "To (Ic­ahn), it's all just business. But to us, it's de­stroy­ing our liveli­hoods and our fam­i­lies. You take away our health care, our pen­sions and overload the work­ers, we just can't take it."

Bob McDe­vitt, pres­i­dent of Lo­cal 54 of the Unite- HERE union, said vir­tu­ally all of the strik­ing work­ers feel the same way.

"Every­body has their Pop­eye mo­ment: 'That's all I can stands; I can't stands no more,' " he said. "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 reached his limit on Aug. 3, when he de­ter­mined the $350 mil­lion he had lost in­vest­ing in, and then own­ing, the Taj Ma­hal was enough. It was then that he de­cided to close the casino, fear­ing he would lose an ad­di­tional $100 mil­lion next year.

"To­day is a sad day for At­lantic City," he said Mon­day. "Like many of the em­ploy­ees at the Taj Ma­hal, I wish things had turned out dif­fer­ently."

With yelling, chant­ing work­ers just out­side the glass doors, Taj Ma­hal work­ers had trou­ble lock­ing them, try­ing to jam wooden wedges into door frames to keep them from open­ing. Fi­nally they suc­ceeded in af­fix­ing bar­ri­ers to the doors.

The Taj had ac­tu­ally been shut­ting down slowly for nearly two weeks. Many ta­ble games were left un­staffed, and work­ers cor­doned off en­tire banks of slot ma­chines with yel­low cau­tion tape last week as oth­ers ripped the elec­tronic guts from them. Liquor had been re­moved from some ser­vice bars, and even soap dis­pensers dis­con­nected from bath­room walls.

Trump said he will de­mand that his name come off the build­ing now that it is closed, as he sim­i­larly did with Trump Plaza af­ter it, too, closed in 2014. As of last week, a sign over the main en­trance that had pro­claimed "Don­ald J. Trump presents Taj Ma­hal" was al­ready gone.

The Taj Ma­hal joins the At­lantic Club, Show­boat, Trump Plaza and Revel as At­lantic City casi­nos that, since 2014, have suc­cumbed to eco­nomic pres­sure brought about in large mea­sure by com­pe­ti­tion from casi­nos in neigh­bor­ing states. The city now has seven casi­nos.

Wayne Parry/AP

This Oct. 5, 2016 photo shows the ex­te­rior of the Trump Taj Ma­hal casino in At­lantic City, N.J. The casino is to close at 6 a.m. Mon­day Oct. 10, 2016, the fifth At­lantic City casino to go out of business since 2014.

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