Long before he became President of the United States, Donald Trump was a real estate developer and Atlantic City casino mogul, which certainly qualifies him to be considered one of New Jersey’s Most Notorious Gamblers.
Trump’s Atlantic City Start
New Jersey voters supported a referendum to legalize casinos in Atlantic City in 1976 and by the beginning of the 1980s, casino construction was booming.
Trump wanted in, and after buying up land near the end of the Atlantic City Expressway with plans to build his own casino, in 1982 he got a license to open up shop. He struck a partnership with Harrah’s, the gambling arm of hotel giant Holiday Inn, to operate the facility after he completed construction.
In 1985, competing hotel giant Hilton was finishing up construction of its own $320 million casino nearby. However, the New Jersey Casino Commission voted to deny Hilton a casino license, claiming people connected to the organization had associated with organized crime figures in the past.
Trump covered the cost of construction and bought the property from Hilton, opening it up as Trump Castle in June of that year.
Fallout with Harrah’s
Trumps problems with Harrah’s didn’t start there, but they rose to unworkable levels. He had built Trump Plaza to attract big time gamblers and the Harrah’s name did the opposite. They had been at odds since opening and when Harrah’s called his new interest in Trump Castle a conflict of interest, he simply bought them out and waved goodbye.
Harrah’s actually went as far as filing a lawsuit, but when Trump paid them $223 million to walk away from their share of the property, they took it. In 1986, Harrah’s at Trump Plaza became just Trump Plaza.
Taking Over Atlantic City
Trump quickly became Atlantic City’s biggest promoter and his casinos were the biggest beneficiary of that, leading the growing industry with revenues soaring into the hundreds of millions.
He helped bring championship boxing and wrestling matches to the city, with Mike Tyson and the World Wrestling Federation becoming regular visitors.
In 1989, Trump bought the bankrupt Atlantis Hotel and Casino for $63 million and renamed it Trump Regency before setting his sites on something even bigger.
Resorts International had built Atlantic City’s first legal casino in 1978 and was in the middle of construction on a property next door, expected to become the biggest casino in the world when it was completed. Resorts was calling it the Taj Mahal and had already poured closed to $500 million into the project when they reportedly ran out of money.
Trump made a play at buying a controlling interest in the company and what followed was a very public battle with TV host Merv Griffin for control of Resorts and the Taj Mahal. When the dust settled, Griffin got Resorts and Trump the Taj.
Trump finished construction at a cost of almost $1 billion, financed through the sale of junk bonds, and the renamed Trump Taj Mahal opened in 1990. As promised, it was the biggest casino in the world, but for Trump, and his reign as an Atlantic City casino mogul, its opening was the peak at the beginning of a very large downfall.
The Fall, the Bankruptcies and the Exit
A little over a year later, with construction contractors claiming they still hadn’t been paid, the property filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As quickly as he’d gained it, Trump lost half of his interest in the Taj.
Within the next 12 months, Trump Plaza and Trump Castle both filed for Chapter 11 as well. By 1995, Trump’s casinos were all consolidated into a publicly traded company called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts.
Trump was still at the helm of the company when mortgage holder Chemical Bank took ownership of Trump Regency. Trump bought it back in 1995 and reopened it a year later as Trump World’s Fair at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. It closed permanently in 1999 and was torn down a year later.
In 1997, they changed the name of Trump Castle to Trump Marina, but financial problems with the company persisted. In 2004, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts filed for Chapter 11 and reemerged as the renamed Trump Entertainment Resorts.
Trump Entertainment Resorts itself filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and Trump resigned as chairman, retaining a 10 percent ownership stake in the company and allowing the company to continue to use his name.
Two years later, Trump Marina was sold and reopened as the Golden Nugget and within three years, Trump was no longer invested in Trump Entertainment Resorts.
Trump Plaza closed in September 2014 and the Taj was bought out by Carl Icahn. It closed while mired in a labor dispute last year.
Although signs can be seen on the top of the Taj, no operating casino in Atlantic City still bears the Trump name. However, Trump’s rise as an Atlantic City casino mogul, and subsequent fall, will ensure he’s always remembered as one of New Jersey’s most notorious gamblers.
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