Both casinos were purchased for pennies on the dollar, but the new owners have spent more than $700 million collectively to renovate and remodel their previously-owned properties.
The bulk of that money was spent by Hard Rock Atlantic City, as the company spent close to $500 million updating the nearly 30-year-old casino and wiping away any and all vestiges of the former Trump Taj Mahal.
This column will detail the history of Hard Rock Atlantic City, and what you can expect to find when the property reopens Thursday.
A look back at Trump Taj Mahal
The Donald Trump era
Trump Taj Mahal was once the crown jewel of Atlantic City, but even during its periods of plenty, the casino was rarely profitable.
Financed largely with high-interest junk bonds, the Trump Taj Mahal was steaming toward a date in bankruptcy court before it took its first bet in 1990. By 1991, the Trump Taj Mahal filed for the first of what would be four bankruptcy protections.
“He [Donald Trump] funded the construction of the $1 billion Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J., which opened in 1990, primarily with junk bonds at a whopping 14 percent interest. A year later, the casino was nearly $3 billion in debt, while Trump had racked up nearly $900 million in personal liabilities.”
The Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy three more times over the years:
- The second bankruptcy occurred in 2004 (Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts);
- The third in 2009 (Trump Entertainment Resorts);
- The fourth in 2014 (Trump Entertainment Resorts).
With each subsequent bankruptcy, Trump’s ownership percentage and leadership role diminished. Trump went from a 47 percent stakeholder to 27 percent after the 2004 filing. His ownership was reduced to just 10 percent after the 2009 filing and saw Trump ousted as chairman and stripped of any operational role.
But his name was still prominently displayed on the building.
Following the 2014 bankruptcy, Trump was trying to distance himself from the failing AC casino, going so far as to file a lawsuit to get his name stripped from the building’s façade.
The Carl Icahn era
The fourth bankruptcy nearly caused the Trump Taj Mahal to join four other Atlantic City casino properties (including the Trump Plaza) in closing its doors.
The Taj managed to stay afloat, but as the bankruptcy proceedings dragged on, things went from bad to worse. The hotel-casino fell into a state of disrepair before it was bailed out in 2016 by billionaire Carl Icahn, the man who rescued the Tropicana Atlantic City from bankruptcy several years earlier.
Unfortunately, Icahn’s dreams of rehabbing the Taj crashed and burned when a labor strike forced the casino to shutter its doors in October 2016.
Enter Hard Rock International
Icahn’s inability to reach an agreement with labor unions opened the door for another company that has long eyed the New Jersey market (in North Jersey, for example) to make its move: Hard Rock International.
Hard Rock bought the property from Icahn for about $50 million in 2017. But the purchase price was only a small part of Hard Rock’s AC investment. Originally planning to spend upward of $400 million on renovations, the final tally was closer to $500 million — more than most casinos cost to build from scratch.
What to expect at Hard Rock Atlantic City
Needless to say, Hard Rock Atlantic City has gone through a complete makeover.
Every minaret and the gaudy, outdated décor of the Taj Mahal has been replaced by a sleeker, modern design and color scheme. A few eateries and entertainment options remain (including the Scores gentlemen’s club), but by and large, this is a new property.
Visitors will discover:
- 2,100 slot machines and more than 120 tables games spread across a 167,000-square-foot gaming floor
- 2,000 hotel rooms
- Plenty of amenities
- 20 restaurants and bars
- Dozens of retail stores
- A larger finished Marc G. Etess Arena (seating has gone from 5,200 to 7,700)
Online gaming and sports betting at Hard Rock Atlantic City
For online gaming, Hard Rock has partnered with Gaming Innovation Group (GiG).
From the press release announcing the partnership:
GIG will provide Hard Rock with a state of the art digital consumer portal, as well as the back-end platform to manage the operations. The online casino will be developed by GIG’s design and development team in collaboration with Hard Rock, with the offering launching in 2018.
GiG has also announced it has kicked off the application process for the Casino Service Industry Enterprise License in New Jersey, moving the company into a third regulated market.
Hard Rock’s sportsbook won’t be ready June 28. In fact, very little is known about Hard Rock’s sports betting ambitions. However, earlier this week, Hard Rock hinted to the New York Times in an interview that there are sports betting plans afoot.