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Casino workers, students blast Icahn

He has cut worker benefits. Showboat plan in doubt.

As businessman Carl Icahn takes over Trump Entertainment Resorts, he also assumes control of the struggling Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, next door to the closed Showboat.
As businessman Carl Icahn takes over Trump Entertainment Resorts, he also assumes control of the struggling Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, next door to the closed Showboat.Read moreED HILLE / Staff Photographer

ATLANTIC CITY - Carl Icahn has done battle with corporate boards, company executives, and rival investors, yet some of the most intense flak he has ever received is coming from casino workers and college students who see him as the hand holding back this struggling seaside gambling resort.

Icahn is taking over Trump Entertainment Resorts, and with it the struggling Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. Even before the deal closes, it has brought numerous headaches as well as public protests over the company's elimination of health insurance and pensions for workers.

College students and union members protested Thursday over Trump Entertainment's move to block the former Showboat Casino Hotel - its next-door neighbor - from being converted into a campus for Stockton University. The proposed reuse of a shuttered casino represented one of the only bits of good news Atlantic City has had in the last year or so, during which four of its 12 casinos, including the still-profitable Showboat, were shut down.

Trump Entertainment has said it does not want a college campus next to the Taj Mahal, fearing students under the legal age of 21 would sneak in to gamble and drink, exposing the casino to costly fines. But many students questioned that assertion.

"I want Carl Icahn to know what he's doing is wrong," said Shannon Herbst, a senior. "He thinks this is a game, and it's not. It's my education, and my future."

After a meeting with school trustees Wednesday night, university president Herman Saatkamp said the prospects of converting the Showboat into a campus were "looking positive." He would not elaborate.

Icahn, who also owns Atlantic City's Tropicana Casino and Resort, has been locked in a fight with the main casino workers' union, Unite Here Local 54, over benefit cuts and work-rule changes at the bankrupt Taj Mahal. Though he does not yet own it, he has been lending it money to keep it open.

He said this week he is not involved in Trump Entertainment's decisions. Local 54 derided that assertion.

At issue is a 1988 legal covenant among the Taj Mahal, Showboat, and Resorts casinos requiring that the Showboat never be used as anything other than "a first-class casino resort." Caesars Entertainment closed the Showboat on Aug. 31, and Stockton bought it in December, announcing plans to convert it into a long-sought Atlantic City satellite campus.

Trump Entertainment has said Stockton knew of the covenant when it bought the building. Saatkamp acknowledged there was a covenant but said the university was "led to believe" the matter had been resolved between Trump Entertainment and Caesars.

Stockton officials said last month that if the impasse cannot be resolved soon, they will move to quickly sell the property.

Florida developer Glenn Straub, whose purchase of the Revel Hotel Casino was approved in bankruptcy court Thursday, said he is acquiring several casinos or former casinos in Atlantic City as part of a $500 million multifaceted development. His attorney, Stuart Moskovitz, said the Showboat is part of that purchase deal. Straub's plan for it, including whether he would allow it to be used as a college campus, remained unknown.

"I've never had someone try to stop me from pursuing an education," said sophomore Kendal Lambert. "For a billionaire to say no to this is totally unacceptable."

"I feel robbed," added Brian Moore, a freshman studying hospitality and tourism management, who hoped to attend specialized classes in the former casino.