At the Trump Taj Mahal, debate goes on mute

Robert Aciccone, 73, originally from North Jersey and now living at the senior apartments next door to the billion-dollar Trump Taj Mahal, heads out past the hotel/casino Sunday.

 ATLANTIC CITY — The Trump Taj Mahal went out on its last night much like it did on its first — with Donald Trump hogging the attention.

Trump's face flashed on screens over the moribund casino floor showing the debate — but on this night, in this place, the Donald was on mute. "Do I care?" said one irritated gambler. "I'm playing craps here."

In Atlantic City, if not politics, the Trump name was disappearing from the landscape.

As Trump the embattled presidential candidate crossed swords with Hillary Clinton, the once grandiose casino he no longer owns played out a final weird night in its Trumpian life, ahead of a scheduled 5:59 a.m. Monday shut down.
The lights in the word "Trump" at the top of the tower facing Pacific Avenue were unlit. Triumph the Insult Dog arrived for the occasion, and his Hulu masters set up a television on the Boardwalk for a small crowd of strikers to watch the debate. The EGO Lounge off the casino floor showed the debate, but was empty. You could see Trump’s face through the oversized O.


The last guests checked out around noon Sunday, as a dozen or so strikers on the rainy Boardwalk continued their prescient chant: “If we can’t have it, shut it down.” (Trump meanwhile was being quoted as once telling Howard Stern his definition of “checkout time” was what he did when a woman reached age 35).

The casino closure, the fifth in Atlantic City since 2014, and the second with Trump’s name on it, follows two years of union acrimony with billionaire owner Carl Icahn, who failed to reach agreement over health care benefits with about 1,000 members of UNITE Here Local 54, representing cocktail servers, housekeepers and other employees.

Icahn took possession of the Taj Mahal out of bankruptcy court. Donald Trump has not been materially involved in about seven years, other than allowing his name to be used.

In all, about 2,800 employees will lose their jobs at the Taj.

Trump, once the dominant figure in this struggling casino resort, whose bankruptcies and history of leaving vendors unpaid has dogged him in his presidential run, seemed a distant memory for most employees. Many remember the Trump years as their better ones.

Others were prepared to say good riddance to the Trump name in Atlantic City.
“It’s long overdue,” said Clarence Harper of Maryland, who organized a trip with some friends for the Taj Mahal’s final weekend.

“Perfect,” said Anna Farris, manager of Landau’s costume jewelry shop that was packing up inventory to bring to their branch at Harrah’s.

The Trump name, scrubbed and painted over at the shuttered Trump Plaza, was still all over the sprawling Taj resort, down to the tiny box of Trump-branded “political” breath mints for sale at the Taj Times newsstand (which carried no newspapers for sale.)

The mints were not the Tic Tacs as Trump was recorded speaking about using as a preliminary to making aggressive sexual moves on women — recorded in a 2005 Access Hollywood video that has upended his presidential bid. Still, they promised a very Trumpian “Land of Fresh Breath” to all who partake.

“After 22 years, it’s not easy,” said Diovani Grueso, a Spanish 21 blackjack dealer presiding over an empty table Sunday morning.

Since being taken over by Icahn, who also owns the Tropicana, the company initially began investing money back into the property and rebranding it with less of an emphasis on Trump, more on Taj Mahal. But a bitter dispute over union health benefits remained a stubborn obstacle.

Out on the Boardwalk, the post-debate spin was noncommittal. “What is winning?” asked Jack Iaria, a heavy cleaner at the Taj. Of Trump, he said, “I saw him for 30 years, I’ve seen enough.”

Strikers said they stood by their action, and noted that Icahn has previously closed two other casinos, the Plaza and his Sands. Many predicted the property would reopen in the spring. Watching the debate, union organizer Diana Hussein said, “Trump’s tax plan is Icahn’s tax plan.”

Outside, as hotel guests waited for their valeted cars, doorman Wesley Prevard, 47, said the Taj Mahal was bigger than its namesake.

“The aura, the chandeliers, I’ve worked here for 15 years, you meet all the people, it’s the end of an era,” he said.

The last loyal guests were upset at the closing. “It’s like coming out of a funeral parlor,” said Joe Ruggieri before driving off.

On the casino floor, by the end,some televisions switched over from the debate to football. But not everyone was indifferent. Dominick Tangorra, 35, of Binghamton, N.Y. and two friends left the Taj to go watch the debate — in their hotel room at the Showboat.