ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Donald Trump’s business relationships with Atlantic City casinos have largely been over since 2009, even though the Trump Taj Mahal casino still bore his name. But early Monday, the last vestige of Trump will vanish from Atlantic City when the new owner of the Trump Taj Mahal casino shuts it down. Some snapshots of the Republican presidential candidate’s time as a casino owner in Atlantic City:
THE WIDOW’S MIGHT
Even billionaires lose sometimes.
An elderly widow named Vera Coking owned a small three-story house near Trump Plaza that casino magnates, including Donald Trump, had their eye on for years. Trump decided it would be a swell place to park limousines and made her an offer. She refused, enduring a full-scale Trump charm offensive.
“He’d come over to the house, probably thinking, ‘If I butter her up now, I’ll get her house for a good price,'” Coking told the New York Daily News in 1998. “Once, he gave me Neil Diamond tickets. I didn’t even know who Neil Diamond was.”
The state of New Jersey, through a casino redevelopment agency, threatened to use eminent domain to seize the land and knock it down. She was unfazed, describing Trump to the newspaper as “a maggot, a cockroach and a crumb.” Coking held firm and eventually won in court.
She ultimately sold the property to billionaire Carl Icahn for $583,000 in 2014, after she had moved to a retirement home in California.
HAIR’S TO ME
Trump could use self-deprecating humour, including the day in 2008 when he and daughter Ivanka opened the second hotel tower at the Tal Mahal, named — what else? — The Chairman Tower.
He made a joke that the weather was windy that day and asked to have the ribbon-cutting ceremony moved indoors because “I don’t want to have my hair blowing all over the place.”
BATTLING MERV, BUILDING THE TAJ
In the late 1980s, Trump was battling with entertainment mogul Merv Griffin for control of Resorts International, which had built Atlantic City’s first casino, and was in the process of building what would eventually become the Trump Taj Mahal. The dust-up ended with Griffin getting the company and Trump taking over the unfinished casino that would become the Taj, which when it opened was the largest casino in the world.
Trump told New Jersey casino regulators he could hold down expenses because lenders were falling over themselves to lend him money at discount rates. But he eventually issued $675 million worth of junk bonds, carrying a 14 per cent interest rate. An analyst at a Wall Street firm sounded the alarm about the project’s spiraling debt and said the Taj Mahal would need to take in $1.3 million a day just to make its interest payments, something no other casino had ever done. Trump demanded the firm fire the analyst — and it did.
Within a year of its star-studded opening in 1990, the Taj Mahal was bankrupt.
Trump regularly brought Hollywood, music and sports celebrities to his casinos.
In April 1990, he set off a frenzy at the Taj Mahal by bringing Michael Jackson to tour the place during opening festivities. Mike Tyson had a birthday party there, and entertainers who played Boardwalk Hall invariably partied at Trump Plaza next door.
During one celebration, he got Elton John and Dolly Parton to wish him a happy 44th birthday via video link.
A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK
Around that same time, New Jersey regulators expressed concern about the $3.4 billion in debt on his Atlantic City holdings, warning that “the possibility of a complete financial collapse of the Trump Organization was not out of the question.”
Then came Dad to the rescue. By December 1990, when Donald Trump needed to make an $18.4 million interest payment, his father, Fred C. Trump, sent a lawyer to Trump Castle (later renamed Trump Marina) to buy $3.5 million in chips, providing Donald with an infusion of cash and enabling him to pay the loan. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission fined Trump Castle $65,000 for what had amounted to an illegal loan.
SMOKE, MIRRORS AND BULLDOZERS
Trump’s relationship with the truth has often been questioned. In his bestselling book “The Art Of The Deal,” he boasted that he was able to quash worries among a potential partner about construction delays at one of his casino sites by having bulldozers push piles of dirt from one side of an empty lot to the other — and then back again — to give the appearance of frenetic building activity.
It “looked as if we were in the midst of building the Grand Coulee Dam,” Trump wrote, claiming the stunt allowed the deal to go through.
SUCH A SPORT
Trump made Atlantic City the capital of boxing for a time. On July 27, 1988, Mike Tyson took just 91 seconds to dispatch Michael Spinks at Boardwalk Hall. Trump sponsored the fight, paying $11 million to bring the fight to the Boardwalk, outbidding Las Vegas and other cities that wanted it.
He told The Press of Atlantic City at the time, “It was an amazing event, probably the most amazing event Atlantic City has ever seen. The buzz around that fight was incredible.”
Tyson fought — and knocked out — foes including Larry Holmes, Carl Williams and Alex Stewart, respectively. Over 20,000 showed up to see George Foreman fight Gerry Cooney and Evander Holyfield in Atlantic City.
In 1988, Trump hosted an offshore powerboat race whose competitors included “Miami Vice” star Don Johnson, who stayed on Trump’s yacht, the Trump Princess, between races.
Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
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