More than eight months ago, the union UNITE HERE! Local 54 announced workers at the Trump Taj Mahal would strike over a lack of benefits.
Union President Bob McDevitt told the Press of Atlantic City he’s in talks with the Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen and investor Joe Jingoli.
Allen told the Press of AC the hotel group is “looking forward to working with Local 54.”
Local 54’s long journey to the Hard Rock
In the summer of 2016, Local 54 announced its workers would go on strike if five of the city’s eight casinos didn’t agree to the union’s demands for, among other things, adequate health care coverage for its members.
Four of the casinos were able to reach an agreement, but Taj owner Carl Icahn was the only holdout.
Icahn and Local 54 had been bitter enemies for the most part since the Taj declared bankruptcy in 2014. As part of the property’s restructuring, health care and other benefits were either reduced or eliminated.
While workers voiced their opposition to the health care crisis, Icahn pointed out in a 2015 open letter that the union’s health care plan had earned them $140 million.
He went on to compare the union’s strike tactics to old-time, brick-throwing thugs.
Union 54 went on strike
That bad blood fueled stubbornness on both sides, as the Taj was the only casino that chose not to reach an agreement with the union to avoid a long-term strike.
Local 54’s strike gained national attention and became a huge distraction, cutting into the Taj’s business.
If the union’s goal was to make Icahn pay for his belligerence, it worked. On Oct. 10, 2016, the Taj closed its doors for what would be the final chapter in its up-and-down lifespan.[i15-table tableid=4306]
Union leaders saw Hard Rock acquisition as a positive step
As it became apparent Icahn was looking for a buyer, McDevitt released a statement indicating he felt new ownership would give his workers a new chance at “quality jobs, not hollowed out ones that don’t allow families to live middle class lives,” the union posted on its Facebook page.
McDevitt went on to say jobs were always a part of Atlantic City’s vision for casino gaming and that the old Taj property is a reminder of the union’s commitment.
“Our members sacrificed much at this property, but we never wavered in our core belief that workers deserve a good quality job, not simply any job,” McDevitt said.
Will the planned reopening of Atlantic City’s Revel — now known as TEN AC — be the first chapter of a successful resort? Or just the latest episode of stops, starts and missteps for the shuttered property?
In terms of value, Glenn Straub hit a veritable jackpot when he bought the Revel Casino Hotel out of bankruptcy for $82 million in September 2014.
The hulking glass structure with its street-level sprawl and monolithic hotel tower was, if nothing else, a visual marvel. It featured a construction price tag ($2.4 billion) almost as absurd as its undulating, blue-glass form.
And yet, somehow the feisty Florida developer Straub was able to score it for less than $100 million. His purchase was a lone bright spot in a year when four Atlantic City casinos closed.
However, whatever notions of hope existed in the wake of the purchase quickly faded as the Revel’s bizarre transformation from abandoned property to TEN began.
Revel saga started in September 2014
Atlantic City had a rough 2014. The Trump Plaza, Revel, Showboat and Atlantic Club all closed their doors all in the same year, representing the first time in the city’s history that two — let alone four — casinos closed in the same calendar year.
The Revel was perhaps the most stunning closure of them all. It was completed just two years prior for $2.4 billion.
The breadth of the economic collapse was evident in that the sparkling new Revel closed its doors the same weekend as the 27-year-old Showboat. Neither newcomers nor old timers were safe.
From a cynical perspective, the Revel’s doom may have been signaled the day it opened. Bigwigs toasted the new venture with blueberry smoothies, an odd choice in a city where booze and champagne were more fitting launch libations.
The casino’s smoking ban, lack of a buffet, and the fact that it had to halt construction because of the Great Recession were also bad signs, reported CBS News shortly after the Revel closed.
To the owners’ credit, the “healthy” approach to casino gambling was adventurous, if not culturally appropriate. It came in a time when millennials care little about traditional gambling experiences.
Straub ends a contentious sale in April 2015
Eight months after the Revel said goodbye to its gamblers and guests, Straub bought the casino for around three percent of its original cost.
A Press of Atlantic City photo and corresponding caption punctuated an article about the purchase. Straub is positioned on a sidewalk in a construction hat and a black overcoat. He stood casually standing resolute against the backdrop of a gray sky and demure-looking Revel.
“Straub says he hopes they have something open this year,” the 2015 article read, “but he hasn’t decided whether it will include a casino; he has talked often of an indoor-outdoor water park there.”
The construction hat seemed out of place at the time, although it was most likely required to enter the property. It was a sign of the struggles and hard-headedness to come.
Later that year, Straub’s development company refused to make necessary updates to the property to prevent it from being deemed a fire hazard, resulting in daily fines of $1,000.
Surprise, surprise: 2016 soft launch a bust and a name change
A year after Straub bought Revel, the problems continued, despite his claims that the property would have a soft-launch that June.
It turned out the Revel was in no shape to welcome the public. In the days leading up to the failed launch, only minor work was being done on the property. Needless to say, the Revel didn’t open on June 15, 2016.
Last September, the news broke that Revel would be rebranded as TEN. It was a seemingly strategic move to divorce the property from its bumpy history.
In the months that unfolded, however, it became clear the real problem was Straub, and as long as he had the reins of this hobbled horse, progress was only an ideal, not a reality.[i15-table tableid=4306]
2017: More failures, new opening date
Straub started the year telling the New Jersey Casino Control Commission (and anyone who would listen) that he refused to comply with the state’s request that he file for a casino license.
Straub’s argued that in hiring a third party, headed by Robert Landino, to run the property’s casino. That company should apply for the license, Straub said. A Jan. 31 hearing made the matter clear; the NJCCC ruled Straub was the party responsible for acquiring a casino license. It was just one in a number of run-ins with regulators.
In the meantime, Straub said at least a portion of the property would open in February, which didn’t happen. He then announced the casino would open this June, exactly one year after the property’s projected opening date in 2016.
The best guess, barring some kind of miracle, is that the TEN of June 2017 will be no different than the Revel of June 2015: vacant, languishing and with an uncertain future.
A new roller coaster is coming to Atlantic City. Cue the puns about ups and downs.
The Polercoaster is on the way
ABC Ownership will build a 350-foot-high roller coaster named the “Polercoaster” on the grounds where the Sands casino once stood. The project’s approval was contingent upon the New Jersey Economic Development Authority pitching in roughly 28 percent of the construction costs, which happened on April 13.
The Press of Atlantic City had the details, reporting:
“ABC Ownership, LLC asked the state Economic Development Authority to chip in $38.4 million of the project’s total cost of $138,000,000. The money will go toward reimbursing certain taxes, according to the authority’s agenda.”
More on the new AC attraction
According to U.S. Thrill Rides, the Polercoaster’s designer, the ride will be oriented vertically, instead of spread out across a wide swath of land.
“Turning the roller coaster on its end” is one of the Polercoaster’s tag lines, and USTR goes on to say that the coaster has the same length of track as a horizontally oriented coaster, but with a “very small footprint.”
Another nuance to the coaster is that riders board at the top of the track and gravity pulls it down through a series of twists, turns and loops.
If the ride in Atlantic City is the same as what’s touted on USTR’s site, then there will be retail and restaurant space at the top of the coaster’s tower, along with an observation deck.[i15-table tableid=4306]
Coaster development another win for AC
The approval of ABC’s application for the coaster is another indication the once-floundering city is experiencing the early stages of an economic comeback.
Other good news in recent months includes:
- Hard Rock International’s purchase of the Trump Taj Mahal. Hard Rock will renovate the casino and hotel into one of its world-renowned Hard Rock properties. The company is investing $375 million in the renovation and creating 3,000 jobs.
- The Atlantic Club will reopen as a waterpark resort, without gambling.
- Atlantic City was able to settle its outstanding tax appeal with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
All of these developments have come in the wake of the state’s takeover of Atlantic City’s finances.
Believe it or not, has set an opening date for TEN Atlantic City … again.
Like a belligerent bachelor setting another date, Glenn Straub announced recently that his resort — TEN AC — would open June 15. What’s interesting about the most current pronouncement is that Straub said the exact same thing early in 2016. The resort did not open on June 15, 2016.
A report from the Press of Atlantic City seems to indicate the same thing is supposed to happen this year, noting that the news was a surprise for the city’s head of licensing and inspection.
Will TEN AC get the permits?
The issue with Straub’s June 15 prediction is the same one that has plagued the developer since he purchased the former Revel property out of bankruptcy in 2014: permits.
At various times he’s delayed opening because he wasn’t able to secure permits related to plumbing, fire alarms and more.
Here’s what the Press of AC said about this current June 15 deadline:
“Before Straub can open the property he has to meet several Casino Reinvestment Development Authority conditions, including providing a landscaping plan and traffic study. CRDA officials said Straub has yet to meet the conditions.”
While we can’t say Straub will fail in opening the hotel in time, it does not bode well that Dale Finch, Atlantic City’s director of licensing and inspection, told the paper his department will reach out to Straub and “work with him the best that we can.”
Straub doesn’t play nice with the city
Smooth talk and savvy have not been Straub’s strong suit.
During the past two years, Straub has made his opinion of the city and state’s procedures very public, calling them out on various occasions for being a politically motivated juggernaut that refuses to make property openings easy.
His beef with city and state authorities has escalated many times. The latest example had him saying public servants “rape” developers.[i15-table tableid=4306]
Battle for casino license continues
As it stands now, TEN will open as a resort on June 15 with no casino. Why? Straub refuses to comply with the regulators’ requests that he obtain a casino operating permit.
Straub’s contention is that he’s merely a landlord and that the third party he’s hired to run casino operations should be the group responsible for obtaining a casino permit.
A hearing with the Casino Control Commission in January didn’t go Straub’s way. The CCC ruled he is the party responsible for obtaining the license.
Ever the contrarian, Straub refused to accept the verdict. His ongoing antics caused Gov. Chris Christie to say earlier this week that Straub should open the property or sell it and move on.
Meanwhile, you can try out a free-to-play social casino under TEN’s banner.
Image credit: Aneese / Shutterstock.com
The impact of the New Jersey takeover of Atlantic City’s finances is becoming clear after six months.
The AC-NJ backstory
Gov. Chris Christie announced a state takeover of Atlantic City’s finances back in November. That ended what Christie viewed as a string of errors and poor planning by Mayor Don Guardian. (Guardian, despite all this, is running for mayor again.)
At the time of the takeover, there were many questions regarding what the state would do to balance Atlantic City’s budget and bring some life to its faltering economy.
Serious cuts to public safety
The two labor groups that have felt the deepest cuts from the state’s takeover are arguably police and fire.
New Jersey’s decisions about the public safety organizations’ finances have been more slash-and-burn than nip-and-tuck.
According to one regional news source, state officials plan to cut salaries, eliminate any payouts due for unused sick time and select a new health plan for police officers and firefighters. And here’s the kicker: 24 officers and 100 firefighters are going to be laid off.
These cuts, which were made public in December, drew the ire of the city’s unions. They were, according to the Press of Atlantic City, more than what local union leaders expected.
Police union president Matt Rogers told the Press of AC he and his fellow union leaders would continue to negotiate even though they felt they’d end up giving more than they’d take.
“It just seems like every time we go in there, they ask for a little bit more,” Rogers said.
Despite the plan to axe more than two dozen officers, 30 officers whose salaries paid by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority were safe from layoffs.
The unions sued the state. But a judge ruled against them (for the most part) by allowing all cuts except the layoffs to move forward.
City reached settlement with Borgata
The other main development in the state’s takeover was a $72 million settlement between Atlantic City and Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
This was good news for the city, as it owed the casino $165 million in property tax refunds.
Former US Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa, who leads the takeover for the state, took a conciliatory tone after the deal.
“As good corporate citizens, MGM Resorts and Borgata understand the financial realities facing Atlantic City and are jointly committed to the revitalization of the area as a good place to live and a prime destination for tourism,” he said.
Other developments in AC
Some may question whether any of that had to do with the state takeover. But regardless, the turnaround is happening.
Hard Rock International laid out its big plans for Atlantic City, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
What’s happening to the Trump Taj Mahal
The international casino and hotel had earlier announced its purchase of the Trump Taj Mahal, bringing the Taj’s grand, but quickly fading history to a close. Even more, the purchase engendered renewed faith in the rejuvenation of Atlantic City’s economy and, perhaps, its reputation.
Hard Rock revealed the details of the renovation in a recent press release. Chairman Jim Allen said he sees the Hard Rock AC as a “catalyst for growth” in a city that desperately needs it:
“From world-renowned music events to innovative dining concepts, we’re excited to bring the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino experience to the Atlantic City Boardwalk – which has been home to our Hard Rock Cafe for more than 20 years. Our commitment to Atlantic City has never been stronger and we look forward to being a catalyst for further growth and development of the area.”
According to the release, the renovation will cost $375 million and create 3,000 permanent jobs.
Entrance, rooms to be overhauled
The renovation of the former Trump Taj Mahal will be a complete transformation, starting with the property’s outdated facade.
Hard Rock says it’s redoing the exterior on Pacific Avenue and the Boardwalk, as well as at the resort entrance and the porte cochére (vehicle turnaround/courtyard).
A conceptual drawing of the porte cochére reveals a courtyard with tiled fountains and flowers, along with a whimsical false ceiling and the Hard Rock’s prominent logo.
The Hard Rock’s rooms will get the royal treatment too.
“Guestrooms and suites will undergo a complete renovation and redesign to offer lavishly appointed rooms in a setting that is anything but uptight,” the release said.
Also of note:
- Hard Rock says its Atlantic City property will also feature the company’s “The Sound of Your Stay” music amenity program, through which guests can have a Fender guitar sent to their rooms for free.
- Hard Rock says it will move the current Hard Rock Cafe to a bigger venue where patrons will have beach access.
- The resort’s casino will have 2,400 slots and 130 table games, as well as “an entirely redesigned interior with first-class food and beverage concepts.”
Next chapter in Taj’s story a positive one
While the Hard Rock’s purchase of the Taj marks the end of a symbolic era in Atlantic City, it’s an end that may be welcomed by city leaders and gambling enthusiasts.
The once-grand Taj became a pariah after it closed from a labor strike, during which billionaire Carl Icahn refused to offer employees moderate benefits.
Image credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
Based on recent developments, it certainly looks like Atlantic City is making a comeback.
Nearly two-and-a-half years after the city’s casino contraction of 2014, there are signs that the city could be moving toward an economic recovery. A recent article from U.S. News & World Report said, “Atlantic City’s casinos appear to be getting their groove back.”
Some of the optimism stems from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement‘s 2016 report, which showed that casino gaming revenue rose this past year.
Internet gambling providing a big boost
This rise in gaming revenue, year-on-year, was the first in 10 years, and is mainly due to the fact that online gambling has increased significantly since it was legalized in 2013.
Golden Nugget and Borgata are the perennial revenue leaders, consistently posting around 40 percent of the state’s overall internet gambling revenue.
Focus on non-gaming revenues helps
It wasn’t just the casino gaming floors that saw promising increases in 2016, though. A trio of casinos made in convention center upgrades in the past few years:
- Borgata: $11 million
- Harrah’s: $125 million
- Resorts: $9.4 million
The gem of this group is Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center, which opened in 2015. The center includes 100,000 square feet of convention space.
These three upgrades, the Press of Atlantic City pointed out, contributed to a 23-percent increase in the number of trade shows, conventions and meetings held at Borgata, Harrahs’ and Resorts.
Harrah’s and Borgata, along with the Tropicana, have also invested millions in upgrading their clubs and pools to attract millennials.
Hard Rock purchase another bright spot
While the numbers we’ve discussed are from 2016, 2017 has also proved to be an encouraging one for Atlantic City’s renewal.
Hard Rock International announced this past month it finalized the purchase of the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal. Earlier this week, Hard Rock indicated it would spend $375 million to renovate the property.
Hard Rock estimates the hotel and casino will bring 3,000 new jobs to the area.
It’s been nearly three years Caesars Atlantic City was robbed. But people are still being sent to jail for the infamous heist.
Eight men were charged in the 2014 robbery — one of them a former casino security guard. Last week, two of them were sentenced for their crimes: Aaron Evans, 26, of Atlantic City, and Nathaniel Greenlee, 23, of Bear, Del., received eight- and seven-year sentences, respectively.
Both men pleaded guilty to a second-degree theft charge, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office said in a press release.
The two men are the third and fourth this year to be sentenced for the robbery. Former Caesars security guard Izyiah Plummer, 22, of Atlantic City, received an 11-year prison sentence in January. Donavon Jackson, 23, of Wilmington, Del., received a seven-year prison sentence in March.
“We’re putting all of the men involved in this casino robbery behind bars for substantial prison terms,” said Attorney General Christopher Porrino. “By participating in this brazen armed robbery, they put lives at risk inside the casino and demonstrated that they are a menace to the community.”
Nearly $200K stolen in heist
Colonel Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said the crime was a “bold risk.”
According to the AG’s press release, Greenlee drove himself and three others to the casino.
Evans and Plummer “entered the casino wearing masks and gloves,” while Greenlee and Jackson waited in the car. Plummer pulled out a gun and pointed it at a security guard and casino employee who were loading full cash boxes from a redemption terminal onto a trolley.
Evans, the release said, took three cash boxes, and the pair went back to the car. They dropped one cash box during their escape.
Sloppy job leads to arrest
Detectives were able to nail the crooks pretty quickly. Subsequent search warrants allowed them to search two of the alleged thieves’ homes.
In Plummer’s residence, they found more than $43,000, a handgun, bullets and a black ski mask.
Their search of Evans’ home revealed $4,300 in cash and “a handle from one of the cash boxes” in front of his residence.
Trooper shot during search
The state troopers who went to the home of Greenlee’s father were met with violence. The suspected robber’s dad shot one of the troopers when they entered the home.
The law enforcement officer was wearing a bulletproof vest, protecting him from serious injury or death. The trooper was admitted to and released from an area hospital the same day.
You’ve got to give TEN Atlanic City owner Glenn Straub credit. His repeated attempts to circumvent casino licenses for his resort have been rebuffed by New Jersey regulators. But the wily developer has opened a social online casino.
A sneak peek at the TEN AC casino
The TEN AC social casino does not allow real-money wagers. It is operated by GAN, the same company that provides the Betfair online casino through the Golden Nugget online casino license. Betfair does take bets for real money.
The website is relatively simple — the TEN logo adorns the header of the page. A menu on the left gives gamblers the option to play:
- Slots: 41 different games from which to choose
- Table games: Six options, including roulette, blackjack and poker
- VIP games: 30 different slots option
Players can also view the latest promotions which, at the time of publishing, included a 5,000 virtual-credit bonus and a daily log-in bonus.
The site opened with a relative whimper, PR-wise — neither TEN’s Twitter page nor its Facebook page made an announcement of the site’s opening.
Social casino a small sign of life for TEN AC
To count this as a victory for Straub would probably draw a hearty-yet-satirical laugh from the cantankerous developer. His antics amid a drawn-ought legal battle to open the former Revel resort in Atlantic City have created a lot of drama.
The state’s casino control commission wants Straub to apply for a casino license. Straub maintains he doesn’t need to, saying he’s just a landlord who hired a third-party operator to run the casino for him.
That much is true — he has hired another company to run his unopened casino. However, that certainty is met by the looming stubbornness of a state organization that refuses to let Straub cut corners.
Straub, state and local agencies deadlocked
Considering how stubborn the state and Straub are, it’s no wonder that TEN AC missed soft openings in the summer of 2016 and this past February.
Aside from the casino licensing issue, Straub has managed to entangle himself in squabbles over a variety of permits that never seem to line up between him and government agencies.
Straub’s conclusion? The state’s red tape is nothing more than a bureaucratic quagmire meant to entangle ambitious entrepreneurs. He went as far as to liken the process to rape.
Everyone’s patience is wearing thin
Straub bought the former Revel casino for a rock-bottom price of $82 million in the wake of the 2014 AC casino contraction.
The sale was an ever-so-tantalizing move and certainly one that promised growth in a city weary of fiscal downsizing. However, more a year later, Straub found himself with permit problems, a clear sign of what was ahead.
A busted budget and a governor’s criticism weren’t enough to stop Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian from announcing his run for re-election.
The beleaguered public servant’s announcement came recently in the City Hall Courtyard. Guardian’s speech focused on his office’s successes in the face of skepticism.
“We needed a new beginning beyond casinos,” Guardian said. “Four years ago, people said that I could never fix any of the problems that were plaguing Atlantic City. People said I could never reduce the size of city government, but we did by 350 employees and counting. People said that I could never reduce the city budget, but we did by $50 million annually and counting.”
Guardian went on to list other accomplishments, including improving the relationship between the police and citizens and acquiring tens of millions of dollars of funding for the city.
Of course, the big question is what a Guardian re-election would mean for Atlantic City’s casino industry.
Christie critical of Guardian’s budget handling
While Guardian may have improved certain aspects of Atlantic City’s finances and public relations, he fell short in what many consider his most important task: To dig Atlantic City out of its $500 million hole.
Last June, Gov. Chris Christie gave Guardian’s office five months to balance the budget, requiring that Guardian come up with a five-year plan to buoy the city’s finances.
Even before Christie offered a five-month reprieve to the city, he launched unashamed salvos at Guardian:
“Where’s his plan? He says he’s been prepared to do it. Where is it? It’s Day 145,” the governor said during a press conference. “Where is it? Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. Where’s the plan, Mayor?”
Budget bungled, state takes over
At the conclusion of the five-month grace period, Guardian submitted a budget to the state.
Christie’s office reviewed it and released a report saying the budget wasn’t good enough to balance the city’s finances.
Charles Richman, author of the report and commissioner of the NJ Department of Community Affairs, said Guardian’s plan was a poor one.
“Based upon my review, there is little in the Plan to suggest what constructive actions have been initiated by the City since June 6, to show that it has the fortitude and the resolve to make the hard choices and difficult decisions at hand,” Richman said.
Because Guardian couldn’t provide a solution (at least one good enough for Christie), the state took over the city’s finances. The state even hired Guardian’s business administrator to assist in the takeover.
Guardian opposed casino expansion, but things have been looking up
One of Guardian’s smart moves this past year was his opposition to casino expansion into North Jersey.
There wasn’t much he could do though: The city was, naturally, bitterly opposed to the bill. Projections indicated multiple casinos would close if properties opened in the northern part of the state.
Whether Guardian, the state, or other market forces are responsible, things have seen an uptick of late in AC: