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Archive for February 17, 2021

Feb. 17, 2021 — The end of a monument to dysfunction

This morning, with the press of a button, several thousand sticks of dynamite were detonated in Atlantic City, N.J. just off Mississippi Avenue. In 20 seconds, the edifice formerly known as the Trump Plaza casino became a twisted wreck.

In truth, however, it was a twisted wreck from the very beginning.

The site, located across the street from the Pageant Motel where our family stayed for a couple of summers while my mother took the annual exams to become a registered nurse for the State of New Jersey, was originally supposed to house the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino. Our family watched that property start construction, but the project stalled in 1980. What happened was that Penthouse founder Bob Guccione was caught up in the Abscam bribery scandal, and that projected receipts from his movie Caligula fell well short of being able to finance construction.

The casino project eventually fell to Donald Trump, then a New York-based real-estate mogul, to complete. It was not, however, without obstacles. A homeowner named Vera Coking refused to sell out, and the Plaza was built around the property. There was a noticeable apse in the southern wall of the casino where her three-story house stood.

The Trump Plaza casino was complete by 1984, but when it opened, casino management did something that rubbed locals the wrong way. Posted on signs between Columbia Place and Mississippi Avenue were signs saying that this stretch of oceanfront beach was reserved for people staying at the Trump Plaza casino.

People were stunned. You see, New Jersey remains one of the only U.S. states that regulates unfettered access to the beach. Towns are allowed to charge money for beach tags — an economic barrier which has contributed to segregation in many shore-area counties over the last 100 years. It’s a kind of de facto segregation that continues to this very day.

But the Trump beach reservation in Atlantic City — a town that does not require beach tags — was done away with swiftly amid public backlash. Not to mention that it was completely unenforceable.

The Trump Plaza, being the casino closest to Boardwalk Hall — a convention center which has hosted the Miss America Pageant, numerous sporting events, and large gatherings — should have been a primary money-gainer within the Trump casino empire. But in leveraging Plaza revenues to build other properties including Trump’s Castle, the Plaza suffered financially.

Now, Trump’s Castle has its own story. The original laws allowing casino gambling in Atlantic City originally allowed for development only along the Boardwalk area of the city. But Trump was able to develop an area adjacent to the State Marina along Brigantine Boulevard. With that development came a road which took down one of the last middle-class neighborhoods in the city. Despite legal actions, the road was built right to the Trump’s Castle front door.

In addition, the debt leveraged by Trump’s other casinos to build the Castle wasn’t enough to finish the project The Castle was only able to open because Fred Trump, the father of Donald Trump, bought $3.5 million in casino chips which he never cashed in — a move that was deemed to be an illegal loan.

Needless to say, because of these and other episodes of financial dysfunction, the Trump casino empire filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Six years later, he filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for President.

The rest, as they say, as history. But with today’s implosion, so is the Trump Plaza casino hotel.