Fight for Survival and Revival on the Famous Boardwalk

It was the Fourth of July weekend, fireworks sparked overhead and reflected off the ocean’s waters.  It should have been a very good weekend for the casinos in Atlantic City.  For seven of the eight, it probably was a great holiday.  But for the eighth the fireworks were in the street outside its front door, not in the night sky.  Outside the Taj Mahal union pickets hassled gamblers trying to enter the casino.  The workers walked off the job July 1st. Local 54 President Bob McDevitt said, “We are fired up and ready to go. We feel as if we have been mistreated and taken for granted long enough. The time is now to take it to the streets. There’s no quit in this fight.”  The last time the union called a strike in 2004, it lasted 34 days.

Striking union members chanted, banged drums and blew whistles as part of a raucous picket line outside the Trump Taj Mahal casino Friday amid a contract dispute with owner and billionaire investor Carl Icahn at the start of the busiest weekend of the year for the casino industry. Wayne Parry, Associated Press, 7-1-16

Gamblers crossed picket lines at the Trump Taj Mahal casino in large numbers Sunday amid taunts from striking union members whose job action stretched into its third day. A steady stream of people filed in to the casino lobby off the Boardwalk, braving amplified taunts from picketers. The sprawling casino floor was busy. Wayne Parry, Associated Press, 7-4-16

The Taj Mahal, owned by Carl Icahn, has just emerged from bankruptcy.  Under normal circumstances the recent bankruptcy would make a casino more vulnerable to union demands.  But nothing that includes Carl Icahn is normal.  He has both money and patience as he has proven over and over.  He is not likely to be intimated or coerced into buckling under the union’s demands any time soon.  However, he has said in the past the he might close the casino rather than put too much money into it.  In this case, he said the casino had to reduce its worker costs including insurance and other benefits to survive.  Icahn has also been very open in blaming the union for contributing to Atlantic City’s troubles.

It is easy to see why he would say that; local 54 used the Fourth of July weekend as a weapon because the casino economy in Atlantic City is frail and very much needs the holiday revenues.  Four other casinos submitted to pressure and signed off on new contracts just before the holiday began.  That left Taj Mahal to fight the battle alone and it appears as willing to fight as the union. The strike is likely to be long and bitter.  The strikers have been taunting would be gamblers with very angry statements: “If you like mice and roaches, stay at the Taj Mahal! If you like casinos that care about their workers, stay anywhere else!” or “We beat the King of England 240 years ago and defeated tyranny,” striking Taj Mahal worker Bart Rodgers yelled through a megaphone. “Today we are fighting the King of Wall Street. We will defeat Carl Icahn’s tyranny! Stand up, America, for workers’ rights!”

As bad as all of that is for Atlantic City and its reputation, there is some good news. Bart Blatstein is set to reopen part of the former Showboat Atlantic City on July 8.  Only some of the rooms will be opened and it will not have a casino.  Blatstein says he has big plans for Showboat and his other properties, but he coyly refuses to divulge.  In the last couple of years he bought the Showboat, other nearby parcels of land and the former Pier at Caesars.  He is a man with some confidence in the city: “Atlantic City has the bones to be among the most amazing cities in the world,” Blatstein said.

Bart Blatstein was quietly reviving Showboat Atlantic City amid another week of turmoil in the city. Workers were onsite training, cleaning and furnishing the hotel a week before its planned July 8 opening… He won’t say what his long-term plans are for the Showboat and nearby parcels. Christian Hetrick, Press of Atlantic City, 7-5-16

Blatstein appears to be better at negotiating the permits and licenses than Glenn Straub.  Straub wants to reopen parts of Revel, including the casino, but has yet to receive the relevant licenses and permits.  The only thing scheduled for Revel at the moment is a surfing contest on the beach.

Locals will get the chance to see some of the best amateur surfers in the nation compete as the Surfing America Prime Series returns to Atlantic City this year…The event in Atlantic City will be held off the beach in front of the former Revel Casino Hotel Resort on Oct. 15. Matthew Gitsas, Press of Atlantic City, 7-4-16

That is Atlantic City at the moment; the city is close to bankruptcy.  The casinos are struggling to survive in a very competitive marketplace.  It is also a city with little glimmers of hope, even as the politicians fight over control of the city, there are developers with big dreams.  Bart Blatstein, Glenn Straub and Stockton University all want to spend money to rebuild Atlantic City on the graves of casualties of the 21st century casino wars.  It is not pretty, but it is not hopeless either – that is, if the referendum to add casino elsewhere in the state fails.  If it succeeds all bets for an Atlantic City revival are off.



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