October Taj Mahal closing may sway NJ casino expansion vote

AP News
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Posted: Aug 05, 2016 6:14 PM
October Taj Mahal closing may sway NJ casino expansion vote

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The closure of Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal casino, planned for Oct. 10, may help bolster the arguments of both sides in a referendum over putting casinos in northern New Jersey.

The shutdown date, revealed Friday in warning notices that were required by law to be filed with the state Department of Labor, set the closing date for less than a month before New Jersey voters go to the polls to decide whether to authorize two new casinos near New York City.

Proponents say the state is already losing business to casinos in nearby states and needs new ones closer to these customers.

Opponents argue that Atlantic City's casinos are already so fragile that three or more may close when faced with new in-state competition.

Billionaire owner Carl Icahn says he will shut the Trump Taj Mahal down after Labor Day, because it is losing millions of dollars a month. Atlantic City's main casino workers' union has been on strike against the casino since July 1. The closure would leave Atlantic City with seven casinos.

"The news of the Taj Mahal closing is tragic, and it just magnifies the importance of defeating this referendum," said Debra DiLorenzo, chairwoman of the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition, which includes Atlantic City-area business and casino interests.

Her group released a study in the spring predicting that three to five Atlantic City casinos could shut down when faced with new in-state competition. That would be on top of the four others that closed in 2014. The group also predicted the loss of 23,000 to 30,000 direct and indirect jobs from these new closings.

Jeff Gural, who operates the Meadowlands Racetrack just outside New York City and wants to build a casino there with Hard Rock International, said the Taj Mahal closing proves the main point of north Jersey casino proponents: That Atlantic City's casino market is crumbling and its former customers are spending their money in other states.

He also cited the $200 million a year that north Jersey casinos would send to Atlantic City to help revitalize it.

"It's so illogical it's just ridiculous, letting all this revenue leave the state," he said. "Not only are we going to help seniors and the state as a whole, which is not doing that great, but we are going to help rebuild Atlantic City."

Sen. Paul Sarlo, who represents the Meadowlands district a few miles from Manhattan, said Atlantic City-area politicians need to "get their heads out of the sand" and stop fighting the prospect of new casinos in New Jersey.

"The pending closure of the Trump Taj Mahal should serve as a wake-up call for Atlantic City officials to take advantage of the benefits of casino expansion," he said. "Expanding New Jersey's gaming sector to North Jersey will provide financial resources so that Atlantic City can invest in economic expansion. The city has the opportunity and the ability to become a destination resort that doesn't rely on casinos alone."

Moody's Investors Service says casinos near the Taj Mahal, including the Tropicana, Bally's and Caesars, could benefit from its closure. But the agency predicted any such gains would be short-lived, citing the expansion of the Sugarhouse Casino 60 miles away in Philadelphia, the expected opening of a second Philadelphia casino by 2018 and the prospect of two new north Jersey casinos.

Donald Trump once owned three Atlantic City casinos, but cut most ties with the city by 2009. The Republican presidential nominee's final stake in Trump Entertainment Resorts was wiped out in bankruptcy court when Icahn took over in March.

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