Sat | Dec 3, 2016

New Jersey loses fourth casino as Trump Plaza closes

Published:Wednesday | September 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
AP News media crews are set up outside the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino on The Boardwalk early yesterday morning in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The hotel and casino closed its doors early Tuesday, the fourth Atlantic City casino to go belly-up so far this year.

The supervisor drew his finger in a slashing motion moments after the final hand of blackjack had been dealt at the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino. And with that, gambling was done.

The 30-year-old casino at the heart of the Boardwalk shut its doors at 6 a.m. - Tuesday, becoming the fourth Atlantic City casino to close this year. Beset by crushing debt, fleeing customers and run-down facilities, Trump Plaza had been the town's worst-performing casino for years.

This year, it has won about the same amount from gamblers that the Borgata takes in every two weeks. And at pennies on the dollar, no one wanted to buy it.

Trump Plaza thus became the latest victim of casino contraction brought on by competition in neighbouring states in the saturated northeastern United States gambling market.

Atlantic City began the year with 12 casinos; it now has eight. The Atlantic Club, Showboat and Revel also closed, and the Taj Mahal could be next on November 13.

Yomari Blanco, a housekeeper at the Trump Plaza for 18 years, plans to file for unemployment this week, and may go back to school.

"It's really hitting me," she said. "You realise the reality that's coming right at you."

Theresa Volpe, a cocktail server at the Plaza for 26 years, is looking for a new job - along with about 8,000 others suddenly cut loose by Atlantic City's casinos since January. An unemployment assistance session will be held on Wednesday at the Boardwalk Hall.

"I don't know if we're going to have a difficult time because of our age," she said. "Someone in their 50s is not necessarily what they want. Friends have been on interviews and they never get called back."

Dealer Ruth Hardrick worked at the Trump Plaza for 26 of its 30 years. She, too, is jobless.

"You think something will come along (to save the casino)," she said. "And it didn't."

Donald Trump said in a message posted to his official Twitter account Tuesday that he "may buy back in" to save the Trump Plaza and the Taj Mahal.

"I left Atlantic City years ago, good timing. Now I may buy back in, at much lower price, to save Plaza & Taj," read the tweet.

Trump didn't immediately return a call seeking clarification of what he is planning to do. He owns a nine per cent stake in Trump Entertainment Resorts and went to court last month to try to get his name removed from the properties.

Trump Plaza had its heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s. Bedazzled with chandeliers, it hosted many a star-studded after-party when a big event like a Rolling Stones concert or a Mike Tyson prize fight was held next door at Boardwalk Hall. The casino even had a cameo in the film, Ocean's Eleven - when George Clooney and Brad Pitt recruited actor Bernie Mac's character to help with a Las Vegas casino heist, they plucked him from the Trump Plaza, where he was a dealer.

Unlike Revel, which opened just over two years ago and was considered new and luxurious before closing, or the still-profitable Showboat, shuttered by its owner in the name of reducing competition for the remaining casinos in town, the demise of the Trump Plaza could be seen a long way off.

Gamblers have been abandoning it for newer, ritzier casinos for years. Its owners, Trump Entertainment Resorts, let it deteriorate in recent years, particularly after a sale for the bargain-basement price of US$20 million to a California firm fell through last year.

A glass-enclosed walkway over Pacific Avenue would be blistering hot under the sun because of the property's frantic cost-cutting moves. Air conditioning the area was one of the expenses deemed non-essential.

Illuminated letters advertising the casino's name on its front and back facades burned out and were never replaced. Restaurants have been shut down for months, and a self-serve kiosk to redeem players' club points near the parking garage was disconnected and covered in dust.

- AP