Trump Taj Mahal is a casino that has a long and storied history. At one point in time, it was not only the crown jewel of East Coast gambling, but also one of the most popular casinos in the whole world. The casino bearing the name of Donald Trump opened with an extravagant party, befitting of the Trump mantra that everyone would come to know. Performers like Michael Jackson attended the grand opening, and it seemed like Taj Mahal Atlantic City was going to be an unstoppable force. In reality, Atlantic City was nowhere near its peak (that would be reached in 2006), and Trump did not have the proper wherewithal to run an efficient casino. A long and troubled history over the past few decades will end with a final nail in the coffin this September.
Financial and operational struggles have been just about the only thing consistent in the history of Taj Mahal AC. Just a year after its opening in 1990, Trump was forced to enter into a prepackaged bankruptcy where he would be forced to give away half of his entire stake in the casino. It was five years after this move that Trump would eventually buy the property outright. At this time in 1996, its value was under $1billion, but the reality is that this was likely a high number, even in the booming times of Atlantic City in the 90’s and early 2000’s.
During the early 2000’s, Atlantic City was seeing tremendous gaming revenue and visitor numbers. These numbers were so large that Taj actually expanded its presence by adding an entirely new tower, known as The Chairman Tower, in 2006. Fittingly, 2006 would also be the best year that AC would experience in its history. After this, however, everything began to go downhill, both in AC and especially with Taj Mahal itself.
The Borgata was the worst thing that has happened to Taj Mahal in the last decade. The new, much more luxurious and modern, casino opened off the Atlantic City boardwalk in 2003. Much of Taj’s casino action went to The Borgata over the next few years. Taj Mahal was once known as the poker room capital of the East Coast, but this title quickly shifted to The Borgata. There were more games running, more space, nicer tables, and a higher end atmosphere. At one point featured in movies, Taj Mahal’s poker room went from being the premier in the East Coast to outright closed by 2014.
When the majority of their poker action left, so too did many of their gamblers and visitors. There was little benefit to staying at or coming to Taj Mahal if a tourist could instead stay at The Borgata. Outside of being on the boardwalk itself, Taj Mahal did not have many selling points.
By 2014, Taj Mahal would enter its first round of bankruptcy. As has been the case in each bankruptcy instance, the dispute was between Taj management (now operated by Tropicana), and their employee unions. The bankruptcy would go back and forth from pending closure to promises of a prosperous future. By early 2016, things were looking up at Taj Mahal, as its primary backer (Icahn Enterprises) led the company out of bankruptcy. The good news did not last for long, however.
Carl Icahn was said to be the savior of Taj Mahal, When the city and investors had effectively given up on the property, Icahn agreed to put a virtually endless supply of money into the Taj Mahal in the hopes of returning it to its former glory. This process started in late 2014, and it will conclude in September 2016. Multiple on site changes took place (closing The Chairman Tower being one of them), but not nearly enough was done, and the casino continued to bleed money. Carl Icahn says that he has lost around $100 million in his efforts to revive the Taj Mahal. In our opinion, not nearly enough was done to encourage a real turnaround for the casino, and as a result the final end is now in sight.
In the past several years, Atlantic City has seen a number of casino closures, including Trump Plaza, Showboat, Revel and AC Hilton. The closure of Taj Mahal will mean another several thousand employees will lose their jobs, and another large vacant building will take up space on the AC boardwalk. Eyesore aside, it is certainly a sign of the times. AC has fallen well behind the competition, both in Las Vegas and among its nearby competition in Philadelphia, Maryland and other cities. While it is not impossible for the Taj Mahal to once again be saved at the last minute, this time it looks more improbable than ever.