ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Workers from the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort marched to Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian's office Monday to ask him to reconsider granting concessions that the struggling casino says are necessary to keep it open.
But the mayor said the city has already given Trump Entertainment Resorts two previous rounds of tax cuts in recent years and simply cannot afford a third. While promising to advocate on the casino's behalf with state officials — from whom the company is also seeking aid — Guardian warned the employees against letting themselves be "used as pawns in this game."
"It shouldn't be a game," the mayor told a group of 10 representatives of the 100 workers who had marched to City Hall to deliver him a petition asking for help in keeping the Taj Mahal open. "It's your lives."
About 1,200 employees signed the petition calling on the mayor and other elected officials "to do everything possible" to keep the casino open. Trump Entertainment has threatened to close the Taj Mahal — its lone remaining casino— in December if it doesn't get a $175 million package of aid from the Atlantic City and state governments. The company has asked the city to drastically reduce its property tax assessments.
Guardian noted the city had already given the company tax breaks, lowering its assessments to $175 million and $40 million.
"And then they stopped paying their taxes," he said. "They owe us $20 million. They came for tax (help). We gave them what they wanted, and they're back at the trough again. I told the Trump people I can't do anymore."
Charlie Rando, the casino's vice president of operations, said 3,000 jobs hang in the balance.
"No one wants to see another property close in Atlantic City, he told Guardian. "We need some help. We don't have time on our side."
So far this year, four of Atlantic City's 12 casinos have closed, putting 8,000 people out of work.
Trump Entertainment Resorts will only commit to keeping the Taj Mahal open through the end of November.
It is pursuing a complicated plan to save the casino by transferring ownership to billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who would pump $100 million into it. But that investment is contingent on ending the union contract, which a bankruptcy court judge did on Oct. 17, as well as getting state officials to sign off on $175 million in assistance. New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney has already rejected that request.
Michael McSweeney, a chef at the casino, told Guardian the Taj Mahal needs to be able to make a public proclamation that it will stay open for at least three months while it sorts out its finances in order to encourage customers not to abandon what they perceive as a dying casino.
"We will have lost an opportunity if we don't speak up now," he said. "I don't want to be here six months from now saying we didn't speak up loudly enough to save the Taj."
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