Donald Trump played Atlantic City like his personal monopoly board, building a casino empire in the 1980s on grandiose promises and borrowed cash.
But like the game itself, his casino empire would crash in a spectacular bankruptcy.
Now one of his storied properties, the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino ceased to exist Wednesday (Feb. 16). It was demolished in equally spectacular fashion by a controlled implosion.
You can actually watch live, if you live in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania or Delaware, which are exempt from the state’s 14-day COVID-19 travel quarantine. (Otherwise, check out the video below)
Trump’s onetime heated rival, Caesar’s Hotel and Casino, next door to the Plaza, is running a demolition promotion called a Schadenfreude special. Guests can get a room with a “front seat to Atlantic City history.”
“This is the fitting end of Trump’s era,” Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. told local reporters.
“You can’t take away the fact that he invested his money and got a lot of jobs for people,” the mayor said. “But he stiffed a lot of people and was selfish.”
The fate of Trump’s Atlantic City foray was presaged when he bought the storied Plaza Hotel, an iconic symbol of old-money New York City. He borrowed $425 million and refurbished it into a condo/hotel.
The project went into bankruptcy two years later. Trump reorganized. But within five years, he was out of the project.
He lost the property, but not before off-loading $300 million in debt on Citibank and investors from Saudi Arabia and Singapore.
It was a pattern Trump repeated over and over again, most spectacularly in Atlantic City.
The seaside resort had legalized gambling in 1977. It was a shit show from the beginning, infiltrated by the mafia and ripe for wheeler-dealers like Trump.
To break into the market, he sold the long-depressed seaside resort a fantasy. To get city tax abatements, he pledged to build scores of low and moderate income houses to replace the city’s slums. It was even written into the deal.
He was taking huge risks on the flagging city. But he was Donald Trump.
The Trump Organization began construction of the casino in June 1982. Harrah’s, the gaming unit of Holiday Inn, joined as a partner a month later, according to news reports at the time.
Trump, who would oversee construction, had no qualms about doing business with mobsters in New York City and courted the New Jersey mob as well to smooth over things.
They were part of a retinue of labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained to head his personal helicopter service, according to journalist Wayne Barrett, who wrote the seminal Trump biography, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.”
Five months after opening, the name was changed to simply Trump Plaza, to avoid confusion with Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City in the Marina district.
Trump also had a problem with the Harrah’s name. It was associated with low rollers, and Trump had loaded up the Plaza’s hotel towers with high-end suites to attract wealthy gamblers.
The hotel, however, faced stiff competition from Caesar’s casino and reported pre-tax profits of just $144,000 in the first half of 1985.
Trump ended up buying out Harrah’s interest in the property for $70 million in May 1986.
His spending spree didn’t end there.
In 1989, Trump went through a bruising legal battle to wrest the unfinished Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino, from Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione.
The project hit the skids after Guccione’s financing fell through. He wanted to sell the property to the Sand’s casino, and it became mired in litigation.
At one point Guccione reportedly threatened to expose Trump’s affair with Marla Maples if he refused to back off, according to one lawsuit.
But in 1989, Trump paid $62 million to buy the unfinished property. He renovated the building and rebranded it as the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino East Tower.
Trump also spent $63 million to buy the bankrupt Atlantis Casino Hotel, on the other side of the Atlantic City Convention Hall from the Plaza. He rebranded it as the Trump Regency, and made it a hotel annex to the Plaza.
Ironically, Trump Plaza’s financial fortunes began to slide after Trump opened the Trump Taj Mahal in 1990.
The deal was leveraged to the hilt with $675 million in junk bonds. Trump spent profligately to finish it. Construction topped out at $1.1 billion.
Casinos, by their nature, are huge cash machines. Trump milked his to fund a monumental spending spree.
He bought, Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, in 1985.
In a five-year span, he bought an airline, Trump Shuttle, a superyacht, the Trump Princess, a knock-off football team, The New Jersey Generals, “The Miss Universe” pageant and set up Trump Model Management.
In the face of huge losses, Trump started stiffing his lenders.
In an effort to bail out his son, father Fred Trump walked into a casino one night and bought $3.5 million in chips just to help him meet a debt payment.
It wasn’t enough. The project was in bankruptcy a year later.
In all, his over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses filed bankruptcy six times between 1991 and 2009.
The financial collapse stripped away his casino properties and many of his other holdings. But his banks had deemed him too big to fail.
He not only escaped personal bankruptcy, but he also collected a $450,000 monthly fee to help unravel the mess he’d made.
His bond holders, subcontractors and other investors weren’t so lucky. They were on the hook for billions of dollars in debt. Trump had sold them out.
Of course, none of the promised housing projects were ever built.
David Spatz, who covered the Trump era as an entertainment reporter, said the Trump Plaza is a symbol of bitter-sweet memories.
“The sun rose and set on him here,” he said about Trump.
Now, “I think some people are going to be happy to see the Trump Plaza come down,” he told Jim Walsh, of the Cherry Hill Courier-Post.
For every person with fond memories of Trump, he suggested, “You’ll probably find three who say, ‘I lost my job. I lost my business. I lost this and that because he wouldn’t pay his bills.'”
Trump Plaza has been vacant since 2014 and is considered an eyesore. The property is owned by erstwhile corporate raider Carl Icahn.
The demolition will erase the last remaining link to the Trump era, the mayor said.
Other Trump properties have been sold and renamed. The Trump Marina, sold in 2011, is now the Golden Nugget. The Taj Mahal is now known as the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Check a video of the demolition!
Watch live: Donald Trump’s Atlantic City casino demolished https://t.co/FpWiVYQcrB
— The Independent (@Independent) February 17, 2021