ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Donald Trump opened his Trump Taj Mahal casino 26 years ago, calling it "the eighth wonder of the world.''
But his friend and fellow billionaire Carl Icahn closed it Monday morning, making it the fifth casualty of Atlantic City's casino crisis.
The sprawling Boardwalk casino, with its soaring domes, minarets and towers built to mimic the famed Indian palace, shut its doors at 5:59 a.m., having failed to reach a deal with its union workers to restore health care and pension benefits that were taken away from them in bankruptcy court.
Donald Trump raises his fist in a salute as he presides over opening ceremonies of the opening of his Taj Mahal in Atlantic City in 1990. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nearly 3,000 workers are losing their jobs, bringing the total jobs lost by Atlantic City casino closings to 11,000 since 2014.
The union went on strike July 1, and Icahn decided to shut the place down a little over a month later, determining there was "no path to profitability.''
The Taj Mahal will thus become the fifth Atlantic City casino to go out of business since 2014, when four others, including Trump Plaza, shut their doors.
But this shutdown is different: it involves a casino built by the Republican nominee for president, who took time out from the campaign trail to lament its demise.
"I felt they should have been able to make a deal,'' Trump told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "It's hard to believe they weren't able to make a deal.''
The Trump Taj Mahal casino is illuminated at dusk in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 2014. (Photo: Mark Makela/Reuters)
Chuck Baker, a cook at the Taj Mahal since the day it opened in April 1990, promised to be on the picket line outside the casino at the moment it shuts down.
"I was here when these doors opened, and I'll be here when they close,'' he said. "This didn't have to happen. To (Icahn), it's all just business. But to us, it's destroying our livelihoods and our families. You take away our health care, our pensions and overload the workers, we just can't take it.''
Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union, said virtually all of the striking workers feel the same way.
"Everybody has their Popeye moment: 'That's all I can stands; I can't stands no more,' '' he said. "The workers made a choice that they weren't going to accept benefits and terms of employment worse than everyone else's. I applaud them: for the first time in 30 years, workers stood up to Carl Icahn and made him throw in the towel.''
The union reached contracts on June 30 with four of the five casinos it had targeted for a possible strike -- including the Tropicana, which Icahn also owns. It granted negotiation extensions to three others: the Borgata, Resorts and the Golden Nugget. McDevitt said talks with the Borgata will begin this month, followed closely by the remaining two.
The Taj Mahal joins the Atlantic Club, Showboat, Trump Plaza and Revel in the growing club of Atlantic City casinos that since 2014 have succumbed to economic pressure brought about in large measure by competition from casinos in neighbouring states. The city now will have seven casinos left.