A public records request for documents related to Hard Rock International’s recent acquisition of the Taj Mahal gives a sneak peek at future plans the Atlantic City casino.
Wayne Parry, an Associated Press reporter quite familiar with Atlantic City, wrote about the results of the records request, which amounted to a letter Hard Rock boss Jim Allen filed with the Division of Gaming Enforcement. That letter is a list of requests: features Hard Rock would like to include in its new hotel.
Here’s an excerpt from the AP article:
“A wish list the company submitted to New Jersey gambling regulators was obtained by The Associated Press. The partially blacked-out copy offers the first look at proposals the Florida-based company has for the shuttered Atlantic City casino that now-President Donald Trump built.”
Interesting nuances to the forthcoming New Jersey casino
While the details of Hard Rock’s plans are pretty sparse, Allen’s letter gives at least a partial picture of what the new hotel and New Jersey casino could look like.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the new casino may be its hidden VIP gambling rooms.
“We would like to ability to create private (VIP) gaming spaces that are not visible to the general public,” Allen’s letter reads. “We would like the ability to have these spaces on the casino floor.”
The letter includes requests, but that doesn’t mean the DGE will accept ideas or shoot them down. However, considering the pace at which Atlantic City is rebounding from its dismal financial past, the more new features and unique nuances, the better.
Daily fantasy sports
The Allen letter also includes a request for daily fantasy sports at the casino. This is an interesting twist; DFS is not currently available in New Jersey.
There’s also an indication Hard Rock plans to introduce slot machines that never before seen in New Jersey. We assume these machines will be some variation on video game gambling machines already in use at Tropicana.
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.
Earlier this month, a partnership called Recycling of Urban Materials for Profit, or RUMP, allegedly struck a deal with the lighting team responsible for removing all Trump-related signage from Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal.
Letters appear on eBay
With the deal in place, RUMP took to eBay to auction off the letters. Bidding started at $5,000, and the auction was supposed to end on Feb. 26.
According to several sources, bidding for the letters hit the $7,000 mark. All was looking good for RUMP.
Removal company claims RUMP stole letters
However, as the closing day of the auction approached, controversy arose.
Eastern Sign Tech LLC, the company that removed Trump signage from the casino, said it wanted to buy the letters back, a sentiment most likely fueled by the letters possibly fetching 40 times their original sale price.
At the same time, Trump Taj Mahal security said the letters were stolen.
With all these allegations swirling around, eBay removed RUMP’s listing. The partnership was not happy about the move.
Lawsuit ensues in Philly small claims court
Miffed about the lost opportunity to cash in on their letters, RUMP filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.
The partnership’s lawyer, Zachary L. Grayson, furnished several newspapers with a copy of the lawsuit. According to those lawsuit documents, one member of RUMP approached a person he believed to be a foreman and asked if he could purchase the letters.
The supposed foreman called his supervisor, who approved the sale. It’s certainly understandable why Eastern Sign parted with the letters for a pittance.
The previous day, according to court documents reviewed by the Courier-Post, the letters were being transported for disposal. As the truck and letters made their way through the city, onlookers jeered the driver and his cargo. He was “greeted throughout his travels in the Atlantic City area by rude gestures and insults.”
Lawsuit another chapter in Taj saga
No matter where the sign ends up, the casino will have a new name when Hard Rock International takes over. Billionaire Carl Icahn said he was going to sell the property, a promise he made good on in less than a month.
In the past year, the storied casino endured a swift, painful decline that started with a July 1 labor strike brought on by Icahn’s unwillingness to negotiate with UNITE HERE Local 54 over employee benefits.
The strike crippled the Taj’s image and revenue, and during the next two months, the casino and hotel sank to depths from which it could not escape. This past October, the Taj closed its doors for good.
Image credit: Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com
Despite rumors to the contrary, Carl Icahn told the Associated Press he has no intention of selling the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino… at least for the time being.
Once the surrender is completed, he’d consider selling the Taj Mahal (if the market improves) with a deed restriction in place that would prevent the new owners from reopening it as a casino, unless they paid Icahn’s company a yet-unspecified fee.
“We are not looking to sell it, not at today’s prices,” Icahn told the AP. “I made my fortune buying things cheap.”
By going this route, Icahn could sell the property to a non-casino investor, or sell it and receive a (likely bloated) fee to cancel the deed restriction.
Or you could choose Door #2…
Of course, Icahn could reopen the property himself, if New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decides to veto a bill passed by the legislature designed to prevent Icahn from reopening the Taj with a union contract more favorable to him, or perhaps as a non-union property.
Icahn didn’t rule out the possibility of reopening the Taj himself if Christie vetoes the bill, telling the AP he’s not sure if he’ll reopen the property or not.
That being said, the legislature easily passed the measure, and the anti-union Christie is on his way out the door and no longer has the type of sway over the legislature he once possessed.
“Essentially what we’re trying to do is prevent casino owners from manipulating the licensing system and abusing rank and file casino workers,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli in a statement, after it was passed by the Senate (29-6) and the Assembly (60-17).
“Given Atlantic City’s struggles, the last thing we want to see is a casino owner taking advantage of bankruptcy laws and pocketing a license or, even worse, stripping workers of benefits and denying them a fair wage because they couldn’t come to the table and strike an agreement,” Burzichelli added.
Icahn didn’t mince words when it came to New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, a union official and the driving force behind the bill that would strip Icahn of the Taj Mahal casino license for five years if he reopened it without first reaching an agreement with the union.
“When a guy like Sweeney goes after someone who saved the Tropicana and 3,000 jobs when no one else would, who would invest in New Jersey?” Icahn, who also owns the Tropicana, said in the AP interview. “The worst thing about New Jersey is they have Sweeney as head of the Senate. The best thing about New Jersey is they didn’t make him governor.”
Icahn’s roller coaster ride with the Taj
The Taj is apparently trying dethrone Revel as the zaniest casino story in Atlantic City history.
Things started out innocuously enough when Icahn rescued the flailing property from bankruptcy, with the promise of investing some $100 million into the dilapidated casino.
The union, Local 54 UNITE-HERE casino workers’ union, wanted pension and health care cuts that were approved by the bankruptcy court reinstated. The problem being — the labor agreement changes were one of the conditions Icahn demanded to purchase the Taj.
Before the doors were even locked, speculation about the next chapter in the life of the Taj Mahal began, with the possibility Icahn reopening it in the spring as a non-union property causing Sweeney and the legislature to spring into action with their bill.
And here we are, at the beginning of 2017 with the future of the Trump Taj Mahal anyone’s guess.
Image credit: Roman Tiraspolsky / Shutterstock.com
On Oct. 10, 2016, the Trump Taj Mahal closed its doors to Atlantic City customers, but in the opinion of industry insiders, it wasn’t all bad news.
However, the closure of the fifth Atlantic City casino since 2014 didn’t live up to their expectations.
How well are the remaining New Jersey casinos doing?
The official New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement figures indicate that despite the closure of the Trump Taj Mahal, the remaining Atlantic City casinos are struggling more than ever.
This November’s $180.11 million win represents a 5.8 percent decrease compared to last year’s numbers. Even excluding the Taj Mahal’s figures, the industry grew by only one percent.
When the Taj Mahal shut down, it was doing battle with the UNITE HERE union’s local chapter over health care, pensions, and wages.
Wayne Schaffel, a gaming analyst, told the Press of Atlantic city that the Taj Mahal’s closure would not have a large positive impact on the revenue of other Atlantic City casinos.
Schaffel told the newspaper:
“What is going to happen is that those people who used to come to the city eight times a year are now going to come six times year and it’s going to continue to decline. I’m not surprised that all of the money didn’t come back into the city. That revenue is gone.”
Are all casinos in New Jersey on the decline?
Not every Atlantic City casino is suffering. On the contrary, several are doing quite well.
Tropicana led the rest of the pack with a 12.1 percent year-over-year increase. It brought in a monthly win of $25.31 million. Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino also saw its numbers jump by 6.6 percent, bringing in approximately $16.28 million for the month.
Resorts, which is partnered with PokerStars on the online poker front, did not do nearly as well and saw its land-based casino win rise by less than one percent, while the Borgata actually ended up taking a small loss compared to last November’s win.
Where is the decrease coming from?
The Atlantic City casino that fared the worst this November was Caesars, which posted an alarming 12.5 percent decrease, dropping its win to $21.31 million for the month.
Atlantic City’s fiscal crisis
As Atlantic City numbers continue to drop, it’s no wonder that New Jersey is looking elsewhere for a way out of its financial crisis.
In fact, a poll released earlier this month by Quinnipiac University showed that most Garden State residents (79 percent) oppose an expansion of casino gambling.
Just this year, New Jersey voters rejected gambling expansion into North Jersey, the state took over of the municipal government of Atlantic City, federal legislation that could possibly ban online gambling shifted closer to reality, and the Supreme Court of the United States continued to refuse to hear New Jersey’s case for sports betting.
With all of these negatives on the record, it remains to be seen what will happen to Atlantic City in the coming year.
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