Before he answered to “Mr President” or began yelling “you’re fired!” on television, Donald Trump was famous for his billion–dollar business pursuits. Despite the massive success that Trump’s real-estate empire brought him, until recently, he was still best known for his escapades as a casino mogul in the 80s and 90s.
1982 – Trump Acquires Gambling License
In record time, Donald Trump was granted a casino license by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. At the same time, he began acquiring land on and surrounding Atlantic City’s famous Boardwalk.
1984 – Trump Plaza is Born
Trump’s formal introduction to the casino industry came in the form of the joint-venture, Harrah’s at Trump’s Plaza. This US$220 million endeavour was Atlantic City’s 10th casino. It was here that Trump began his signature practice of appearing frequently at his own casinos, generally accompanied by a host of celebrities.
1985 – Trump’s Castle Opens
With the growing success of Harrah’s at Trump Plaza, Trump entered his next casino venture, this time without any hospitality partners. It was called Trump’s Castle Hotel and Casino and was born out of a nearly-complete Hilton-owned hotel on the Atlantic City marina.
The move ruffled feathers among his Harrah’s partners, who felt the similar names of the two casinos was confusing – an argument they lost in court. In fact, Trump then bought out Harrah’s and now officially owned two Atlantic City casinos.
1990 – Trump’s Taj Mahal Takeover
In 1988, after a fierce battle with fellow casino mogul Merv Griffin to take over the foundering Resorts International, Trump acquired his third Atlantic City casino. The Taj Mahal, on which construction was stalled at the time of the Trump takeover, was to be the crown jewel of Trump’s casino empire.
The US$1 billion resort opened its doors in April 1990 amid a flurry of fanfare unlike anything Atlantic City had ever seen. Unfortunately, the Taj’s initial success could not save it from financial disaster little more than a year down the line.
1991 – The Beginning of the End
Among the black marks on Trump’s US presidential campaign were his enterprises’ repeated bankruptcies during his casino days. The Taj Mahal was the first to be hit, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1991. What Trump and many of his contemporaries had not anticipated was an oversaturated market and a national recession, which hit the casino industry hard.
Within less than a year, Trump Tower and Trump’s Castle met the same fate. It was the beginning of a downturn from which Atlantic City’s casino industry would never recover.
1996 – World Fair comes and Goes
After extensive restructuring and a name change, Trump’s company developed a new casino in Indiana – Trump’s World Fair. That ill-fated venture didn’t make it past three years and plans to replace it with a large resort never materialised.
The 2000s – The Final Demise
Despite further restructuring and even more name changes, Trump Entertainment Resorts (TER) filed for bankruptcy a fourth time in 2009, days after Trump resigned as Chairman of the Board, and again in 2014.
Over the course of the 2010s, TER proceeded to sell off or shutter all its casino assets and Trump continually reduced his shares in the company, ultimately exiting the industry entirely.
Remains of Trump’s Atlantic City
If you visit Atlantic City today, hoping to visit one of Trump’s former casinos, you are sadly out of luck. The Taj Mahal is closed after much controversy, and if you’re looking for Trump Castle, you can visit the Golden Nugget, which has stood in its place since 2011. Trump Plaza stands empty and may be razed to the ground in the near future.
As for Trump himself, as he so often reminds us, bankruptcy never hit him personally, and his ongoing business success elsewhere has made him a very wealthy president.