The New Jersey Senate passed a bill on Thursday designed to keep billionaire investor Carl Icahn from re-opening the Trump Taj Mahal for five years. The bill, S2575, was affirmed by a vote of 29 to 6 (with 5 not voting) and would amend the portion of the state law that details how someone could be disqualified from acquiring a casino license in the state.
The Trump Taj Mahal closed on October 10th after 26 years in operation. Since February, it has been owned by Carl Icahn and his, company, Icahn Enterprises. Trump Entertainment Resorts, the previous owner of the casino (and now a subsidiary of Icahn Enterprises), went into bankruptcy in September 2014; Icahn, its largest debt-holder, agreed to take it over when it came out of bankruptcy in February.
During the bankruptcy proceedings, the Unite Here Local 54 union lost its healthcare and pension benefits. After unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with Icahn to regain their benefits, more than 1,000 Trump Taj Mahal workers went on strike in early July. A month later, Tropicana Entertainment, which operates the casino, announced that the casino would close, citing profitability issues stemming from the strike.
There has been some thought that Icahn might try to re-open the Trump Taj Mahal at some point on his own terms, skirting the union in the process, and this bill aims to prevent that. The amendment reads:
Notwithstanding the provisions of any law, rule, or regulation to the contrary, the substantial closure of a casino hotel facility by the licensee occurring on or after January 1, 2016 shall disqualify the licensee from continuing to hold that license and shall constitute sufficient cause for revocation of that license, except that such substantial closure shall not impact any other pre-existing casino license held by the licensee. The division shall determine what constitutes a substantial closure of a casino hotel facility pursuant to this section.
The disqualification would be in effect for five years.
Democratic Senate president Steve Sweeney, the sponsor of the bill, told the Associated Press, “Casino owners shouldn’t be manipulating the system and exploiting bankruptcy laws as a way to break unions and take away the rights and benefits of the workers. Atlantic City’s gaming industry is obviously experiencing the difficult challenges of competition from other states, but the answer is not to engage in practices that punish the workers.”
Tropicana Entertainment president Tony Rodio, who has served as Icahn’s mouthpiece during the labor ordeal, believes the bill could scare off other companies who may want to open for business in Atlantic City:
I don’t see any reason for anyone to want to invest in the casino industry in Atlantic City given this adversarial investment climate being created by some leaders of our state Legislature, the same ones who are supporting the North Jersey gaming referendum that will certainly result in the closure of many more Atlantic City casinos and future disqualification of their present owners under this bad legislation. It also raises serious questions why anyone would want to invest in the State of New Jersey at all if the State legislature moves forward with this business, job and growth killing legislation.
The bill still has to go the state Assembly. According to the AP, Governor Chris Christie would likely veto the bill should it get to his desk.