ATLANTIC CITY - Workers from the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort marched to Mayor Don Guardian's office Monday to ask him to reconsider concessions that the struggling casino says are necessary to keep it open.
But the mayor said the city already gave Trump Entertainment Resorts two rounds of tax cuts in recent years and 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 10 representatives of the 100 workers who marched to City Hall to deliver 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 does not get a $175 million package of aid from the city and state governments. The company has asked the city to drastically reduce its property tax assessments.
Guardian noted the city already had lowered 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 any more."
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."
This year, four of Atlantic City's 12 casinos have closed, putting 8,000 people out of work.
Trump Entertainment will commit only to keeping the Taj Mahal open through the end of November.
It is pursuing a plan to transfer ownership to billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who would pump $100 million into it. But that investment was 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 Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) has rejected that request.
Michael McSweeney, a chef at the casino, told Guardian that the Taj Mahal needed to be able to make a public proclamation that it will stay open for at least three months while it sorts out its finances, 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."