ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - 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 down 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.
Nearly 3,000 workers lost their jobs, bringing the total jobs lost by Atlantic City casino closings to 11,000 since 2014.
Picketers affixed an anti-Icahn poster that they had signed to the casino's main Boardwalk entrance door. It proclaimed "We held the line."
"We held the line against a billionaire taking from us!" said Marc Scittina, a food service worker at the Taj Mahal's player's club since shortly after it opened in 1990. "This battle has been going on for two years."
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 becomes 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 candidate 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."
Chuck Baker, a cook at the Taj Mahal since the day it opened in April 1990, was on the picket line outside the casino at the moment it shut down. He was here when the doors opened in April 1990 and wanted to be there when they closed as well.
He led a moment of silence among the otherwise rowdy 200 or so picketers on the Boardwalk outside the casino "before we shut down Taj Mahal."
"This didn't have to happen," he said. "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."
Icahn reached his own Popeye moment on Aug. 3, when he determined the $350 million he had lost investing in, and then owning, the Taj Mahal was enough. It was then that he decided to close the casino, fearing he would lose an additional $100 million next year.
"Today is a sad day for Atlantic City," he said Monday. "Like many of the employees at the Taj Mahal, I wish things had turned out differently."
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 neighboring states. The city now will have seven casinos.
Later Monday, newly unemployed former Taj Mahal workers were to begin signing up for unemployment benefits and temporary help with utility payments at a union-run resource center at a nearby hotel.
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