Donald Trump, the tycoon with interests that range from gambling to property development, television and even politics, has never been shy about plastering his name on everything he builds. Seemingly, though, he wants also to reserve the right to take his name down if the edifices in question cease reflecting what he thinks it stands for.
That is at the heart of a lawsuit filed by Mr Trump this week that aims to force the operators of two hotel casinos in Atlantic City, the Trump Plaza and the Trump Taj Mahal, to remove his name from each of them on the grounds that they have become shabbier than he can abide. He is asking that it be excised also from the operator itself, Trump Entertainment Resorts. Though he has a small stake in the company he hasn’t controlled it for years.
The lawsuit is a curious reverse shuffle for Mr Trump, whose arguably narcissistic need to adorn everything he builds recently got him a lashing from the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, after 20-foot-tall letters spelling TRUMP appeared on the side of the newly built Trump International Hotel & Tower in the city centre. Mr Emanuel raged that the sign was a blot and “architecturally tasteless”.
But if Mr Trump purrs with pride at his Chicago tower he clearly shudders at what has become of the two properties that once were the glittering mainstays of Atlantic City strip. For the Trump Plaza, things have become so dreadful that it is now doomed to cease operations next month. A warning letter was sent to its more than 1,000 employees in July setting 16 September as its likely closing date.
The suit reveals that Mr Trump ordered two independent quality reviews of the Plaza this year and in 2012 and that it failed both times. The operating company, which was born when Mr Trump’s once burgeoning gambling empire emerged from the second of three bankruptcies, has had a licensing agreement with him allowing it to use his name.
“I want it off both of them,” Mr Trump said after his suit was filed. “I’ve been away from Atlantic City for many years. People think we operate [the company], and we don’t. It’s not us. It’s not me.” According to the suit the poor condition of the hotels is a violation of the original licensing agreement. The warning of closure was the last straw.
“Not only does the issuance of these Warn notices further harm the Trump name and brand, but it also underscores the [company’s] inability to remedy the appalling conditions that gave rise to the defaults under the licensing agreement in the first place,” the lawsuit says, adding the company has “failed to operate and manage the casino properties in accordance with the high standards of quality and luxury required”.
For Atlantic City, the spat is a distraction in a summer filled with woes. As things stand, four hotel casinos could be gone by the end of this year – the Trump Plaza, the Showboat Casino Hotel, the Atlantic Club Casino and even Revel, a $2.4bn resort opened only in 2012 with hopes that it would reverse the city’s crumbling fortunes.
On New Jersey’s shore, Atlantic City was for years the favoured destination for East Coast gamblers. But it never quite attained the verve or volume of Las Vegas and in recent years it has been squeezed as neighbouring states, including Maryland and New York, have moved to legalise and encourage casino operations. In the past eight years alone, revenues from gambling in Atlantic City have dropped by half, leaving all the big casinos in trouble.