ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino closed its doors early Tuesday, the fourth Atlantic City casino to go belly-up so far this year.
When it opened on May 14, 1984, Donald Trump called it the finest building in Atlantic City, and possibly the nation.
But since then, The Donald has left town and cut ties to its casinos. And the Plaza, like many Atlantic City casinos, has seen better days.
A downward spiral that saw it ranked last among the city's casinos ended Tuesday morning as about a half-dozen gamblers who stayed to the end got up from the lone blackjack table in operation or from a few slot machines and walked out beneath the dozens of glittery chandeliers for the last time.
Dealer Ruth Hardrick worked at Trump Plaza for 26 of its 30 years, but is now without a job. She's in a large group: About 8,000 Atlantic City casino workers have lost their jobs this year, and another 3,000 could join them if Trump Plaza's parent company makes good on its threat to shutter the Trump Taj Mahal Casino resort in November.
"What's the next step? Where do we go from here?" she asked. "It's happening all over. A lot of us are in the same boat. You think something will come along (to save the casino). And it didn't."
Atlantic City began the year with 12 casinos. It now has eight.
Unlike Revel, which opened just over two years ago and was considered new and luxurious before closing, or the still-profitable Showboat, shuttered by its owner in the name of reducing competition for the remaining casinos in town, the demise of Trump Plaza could be seen a long way off.
Despite its prime location at the heart of the Boardwalk and the end of the Atlantic City Expressway (its motto had been "The Center Of It All"), gamblers have been abandoning Trump Plaza for newer, ritzier casinos for years. Its owners, Trump Entertainment Resorts, let it deteriorate in recent years, particularly after a sale for the bargain-basement price of $20 million to a California firm fell through last year.
Jim Redmond is a 60-year-old from Montreal who loves Atlantic City and regularly stayed at Trump Plaza. He says its decline was obvious over the last seven years.
"It did slip every year," he said. "This year they had no bedspreads and they totally gave up on the ice machines. This year the Plaza bar was closed and the 24 hour cafe closed at 2 p.m. The higher-end restaurants were closed. It was so sad to see it get a little worse every year. They really seemed to give up about five years ago."
One only had to walk from the parking garage through a glass-enclosed walkway over Pacific Avenue to the casino and be enveloped in searing heat that approached 100 degrees from the sun beating down on the glass to experience the property's frantic cost-cutting moves; air conditioning the area was one of the expenses that was deemed non-essential.
Illuminated letters advertising the casino's name on its front and back facades burned out and were never replaced. Visitors to the Miss America pageant last week at Boardwalk Hall next door saw a neon sign proclaiming "Trump Plaz Hotel & Cas." On the Boardwalk side, the sign read, "U Laza."
Many restaurants on the first and third floors have been shut down for months. Along an escalator leading to them, fake plastic plants were either missing or stolen from row after row of trays. A self-serve kiosk to redeem player's club points near the parking garage was disconnected and covered in dust.
So far this year, Trump Plaza has won just $36.8 million from gamblers. That's down 31.5 per cent from the same period last year, and about the same amount as the Borgata wins during an average two-week period.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC