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Taj Mahal union fails to withdraw its appeal of cuts

ATLANTIC CITY - A casino workers union defied a company-imposed deadline Monday to withdraw its appeal of a court-ordered cost-cutting package.

ATLANTIC CITY - A casino workers union defied a company-imposed deadline Monday to withdraw its appeal of a court-ordered cost-cutting package.

The deadline passed as the showdown over the future of the Trump Taj Mahal casino entered what could be its final week.

Unite Here Local 54 ignored the deadline imposed last week by Trump Entertainment Resorts to withdraw its appeal of a bankruptcy court order that terminated the union contract with Taj Mahal workers. The Oct. 17 order eliminated health insurance and the pension plan for the casino's workers.

Neither side would discuss the deadline's expiration or what it might mean for the casino's future or the jobs of its 3,000 workers. The Taj Mahal is scheduled to close at 6 a.m. Saturday.

In a letter Thursday to union president Bob McDevitt, Trump Entertainment chief executive Robert Griffin wrote: "If you have not agreed to drop the appeal by the close of business on Monday Dec. 15 then we'll know that you have rejected us again."

The company is hoping to hand itself over to billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who has promised to pump $100 million into the casino, but only if the union drops its appeal and only in return for substantial tax breaks from the city and state.

A financial stabilization package for Atlantic City's eight casinos and for the city's municipal finances is making its way through the state Legislature and could receive final votes as early as Thursday - two days before the Taj Mahal's scheduled shutdown.

The centerpiece of the package is a bill exempting the casinos from property taxes for 15 years. They would make collective payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) of $150 million a year for the first two years, then $120 million for the next 13 years, assuming gambling revenue remains within certain levels.

Other aspects would increase school aid for Atlantic City and help pay off its more than $250 million of municipal debt.

Another casino, the Golden Nugget, dropped a threat Monday to file a lawsuit blocking the tax-relief package. The casino's general counsel, Steven Scheinthal, said that proposed changes to a tax bill the Golden Nugget had opposed should be enough to protect it.

The Golden Nugget said last week that its annual property taxes would have risen from $4.7 million to $8.1 million under the bill. But changes made since then would help any casino that winds up being billed more under the PILOT program than it did this year. The amendment credits the amount of the overage toward the casino's reinvestment-tax obligation for five years.

The change, combined with the elimination of the Golden Nugget's $2 million annual share of payments to help fund the Atlantic City Alliance, a marketing group being abolished by the state, satisfied the casino.