Pickets, bankruptcy greet Atlantic City casinos for summer
ATLANTIC CITY (AP) — The crucial summer season will start with three Atlantic City casinos in bankruptcy and one beset by regular pickets and protests.
And things won't be much easier for former casinos, either. Revel is struggling to reopen, and the Showboat is mired in a legal battle over whether it can be converted into a college campus.
Union members picketed Thursday evening outside the Trump Taj Mahal, in their seventh protest against the casino or soon-to-be-owner Carl Icahn over health insurance and pension benefits canceled by a bankruptcy judge last fall.
"This is just kicking off the fighting season," said Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE casino workers union. "We are going to stir the pot, big-time."
Summer is when the casinos make most of their money. Coming off a dreadful 2014 that saw four of Atlantic City's 12 casinos close, the remaining eight are looking to do better this summer. Monthly revenue reports show many have been gaining market share in a diminished market, but for that to continue, summer 2015 is going to have to be a bang-up season.
Yet the first thing some customers will see when they arrive in the city are the words "Boycott Taj" and "Boycott Trop" on the facades of casinos, shined there by union members using a light projector.
Icahn, the billionaire investor who also owns Atlantic City's Tropicana Casino and Resort, is in the process of acquiring the Taj Mahal through bankruptcy court. He has provided money to keep the struggling casino afloat but insists the benefit cuts and work rule changes that current owner Trump Entertainment Resorts imposed are essential to the casino's long-term survival. Icahn did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday and Thursday, but he has said previously he will close the casino if the union wins a court appeal to get the benefits reinstated.
His resolve is matched by that of Patty Pinchock, a cocktail server who has worked at the Taj Mahal since the day it opened in 1990.
"We're not quitting," she said. "I'm going to stay and fight until we get our benefits back; I'm angry that everything I've worked for has been taken away."
The Taj Mahal union dispute is just one of the highly visible battles roiling this seaside gambling resort. Revel, the $2.4 billion casino that closed Sept. 2 after little more than two years of operation, is struggling to reopen under new ownership.
Florida developer Glenn Straub bought it from bankruptcy court for $82 million last month, but has been locked in a struggle with its sole supplier of utilities over how much future service to the building should cost.
That has prevented Straub from meeting his goal of having at least part of Revel -- which would open under a new, yet-unspecified name -- up and running for the start of summer. He recently said it's possible nothing will be ready to open this summer; even his application for a casino license is still not complete.
Caesars Entertainment closed the Showboat on Aug. 31 in the name of reducing competition.
Stockton University bought the building in December for $18 million, planning to convert it into a satellite campus. But Trump Entertainment Resorts is enforcing a 1988 legal covenant among three casinos in the area stating that the Showboat could never be used as anything other than a casino hotel.
The university says it was assured the matter had been resolved but has not said who made that representation or when. Its new acting president, Harvey Kesselman, is trying to get out of the deal, which he called "a mistake." The university has an option to sell the Showboat to Straub for $26 million in a deal that can be canceled by July 3.
Taj Mahal, Bally's and Caesars are all working their way through bankruptcy court.
In the meantime, Taj Mahal workers start the summer in a gloomy mood.
"Everybody's tired, everybody's angry, everybody's depressed," said Pinchock. "But everybody is still fighting."
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