It’s only been a few months since Carl Icahn rescued the Trump Taj Mahal from bankruptcy, but things have gone from promising to ominous for the landmark Atlantic City casino.
After Icahn purchased the property optimism rained down, as the billionaire investor promised to pump $100 million into the iconic property. (Trump Taj Mahal cost an estimated $1 billion to build back in 1990.) The the property had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it landed in bankruptcy court — not for the first time, mind you.
Soon after the purchase was finalized, the famed Taj poker room reopened in May, and Icahn had already invested $20 million to take care of necessary repairs and maintenance at the property. Icahn was withholding the bulk of the promised $100 million until the results of the North Jersey casino referendum were known.
Things were looking up enough that earlier this week I even speculated that the the Taj could soon get back into the online gambling business in New Jersey.
With Icahn’s Tropicana Resorts at the helm, things appeared to be turning around for The Taj.
And then the bottom fell out
The toll of the ongoing labor strike (that began over a month ago) has radically changed the landscape, and the outlook for the Trump Taj Mahal.
On Wednesday afternoon it all came to a boil.
The Trump Taj Mahal announced it would be closing its doors sometime after Labor Day. Because of New Jersey’s labor laws, the casino has to give employees a 60-day written notice, which would put the timeline for the closure date at no sooner than October 3, 2016, if the WARN notices are delivered by Friday.
“Currently the Taj is losing multi-millions a month, and now with this strike we see no path to profitability,” Tropicana Resorts CEO Tony Rodio told the Press of Atlantic City. “Unfortunately, we’ve reached the point where we have will to have to close the Taj after Labor Day weekend and intend to send WARN notices to before this weekend.”
The Unite Here Local 54 Union sees the situation differently; castigating Icahn for quibbling over what its president called “a few million dollars.”
In an official statement, Local 54 President Bob McDevitt stated:
“I would never have thought Carl Icahn was so one-dimensional. The great deal-maker would rather burn the Trump Taj Mahal down just so he can control the ashes. For a few million bucks he could have had labor peace and a content workforce, but instead he’d rather slam the door shut on these long-term workers just to punish them and attempt to break their strike.
“There was no element of trying to reach an agreement here on Icahn’s part; it was always “my way or the highway” from the beginning with Icahn. It is the epitome of the playground bully, who picks up his ball and announces he is going home because nobody else would do it his way. It is truly a shame that such an unscrupulous person has control of billions of dollars.”
Can anything be done?
At 35 days and counting, the strike is now the longest in Atlantic City history, and considering its already tenuous position in the Atlantic City market, it’s not surprising that the Trump Taj Mahal would be willing to throw in the towel.
The casino is in disrepair after years of neglect.
The Trump name on the outside of the casino is perhaps the most polarizing brand in the United States. Of note, should the Taj close it would be the end of Donald Trump’s casino legacy in the city.
And more competition is coming.
The Revel is expected to reopen at some point in time, and if the New Jersey casino referendum passes, Trump Taj Mahal is thought to be the most at-risk casino in Atlantic City.
So yes, Icahn may have paid about $100 million for the property just a few months ago, but that money was more or less a restructuring of Trump Entertainment debt Icahn already owned.
On the other hand, this could be a last ditch effort to force the striking workers to accept Icahn’s proposal or risk losing another 3,000 Atlantic City casino and hospitality jobs. The city is still reeling from the 8,000 jobs it lost when four other casinos — Revel, Showboat, Atlantic Club and Trump Plaza — closed in 2014.
Notice the final sentence in Rodio’s statement to the Press of AC:
“… and intend to send WARN notices to before this weekend.”
Maybe if Local 54 acquiesces those WARN notices will go undelivered?