Lessons From the Fall of Atlantic City – Vegas Seven

In this week’s Green Felt Journal, I look at the death of my former workplace, the Trump Taj Mahal:

Even without the current Republican presidential candidate’s name on the building’s crest, the Taj is as perfect a symbol of Atlantic City’s quick decline as can be imagined. Opened in 1990 as the city’s largest, it kept its place on top of the casino win pile until the 2003 opening of the Borgata. The stilled casino’s minarets and gilded domes now give the sense of a dying empire.

Read more: Lessons From the Fall of Atlantic City – Vegas Seven

This was difficult to write.

History of White House Subs in Casino Connection AC

The latest Casino Connection Atlantic City is out, and my AC History piece is about a real Atlantic City institution, White House Subs:

Mention the White House to longtime Atlantic City residents, and their first thought isn’t the building with the Oval Office, but the local landmark at Arctic and Mississippi avenues.

Now part of the city’s gastronomical DNA, The White House Sub Shop dates back to October 1946, when Anthony Basile, a 20-year old Atlantic City native, home from serving his country in the Philippines, decided to open his own eatery.

via In the Neighborhood: The History of White House Subs | In the Neighborhood: The History of White House Subs | Casino Connection Atlantic City.

I really enjoyed writing this one. Now I’ve got a hankering for a White House cheese steak that just won’t go away.

Bad beat profitable in AC

The Trump Taj Mahal’s bad beat jackpot has finally paid off, in record fashion. Thanks to 84 year-old John Bazela’s four sevens getting beaten by by four aces, everyone at the table is quite a bit wealthier this morning. From the AC Press:

Tom Gitto, the casino’s director of poker, said the jackpot usually hits every 92,000 hands. Sunday’s bad beat came after more than 670,000 hands. For each hand, a dollar is added to the pot.

Bazela took home 50 percent of the pot Sunday, or $336,057. The actual winning hand takes home $168,028, or 25 percent. The remaining seven players at the Texas Hold ;Em table take home the rest, each collecting about $24,000.

News of the much-anticipated win attracted dozens of players and passers-by to get in on the commotion. Taj officials soon summoned two video cameras to film the aftermath of the jackpot, served the winners (or losers) Champagne and wheeled out a large cake congratulating the winner of “the largest bad-beat jackpot ever.”

Bazela said his hefty share will go to his 55-year-old daughter.

“What am I going to do with it?” he asked. “I just come down here to break up the monotony.”

via Trump Taj Mahal awards $336,000 to bad-beat poker winner for “losing” hand – pressofAtlanticCity.com.

I love that quote there–guys who live, breathe, and sleep poker and never see anything close to this money must be steaming.

This is exactly the kind of stuff that AC casinos should be doing. If you had a choice between driving to Foxwoods or AC to play poker, and you knew you could get $24,000 just for sitting at the table when someone else gets a bad beat, would that help tip the scales?

Casino gambling lessons

Interesting piece in the Philly Inquirer about a pay-to-learn-to-gamble service:

As far as Roberta Pickett is concerned, it was $100 well spent.

“When I left,” said the 53-year-old Myrtle Beach, S.C., resident, “I really felt I could play craps.”

Pickett was referring to her recent dice-shooting lesson at Trump Taj Mahal with Assisted Casino Entertainment Services’ ACES, the Taj-based gambling school that is unique to Atlantic City.

Free gaming lessons have been offered for years by other casinos, but ACES’ tutorials are a far cry from those available elsewhere.

“This is a unique setup,” explained Christiaan Van Buuren, the South African native who is the company’s director of operations.

According to Van Buuren, the key differences are ACES’ one-on-one lessons as opposed to the group classes at other gaming halls, and that they include play at “live” tables once the instructor and client believe the latter is ready to gamble with cash.

And, he said, “We don’t just teach the games, we make people feel as comfortable as possible. We teach them casino etiquette – where to sit, where not to sit, how to get a players card, where to cash chips . . .

“The most important part of our lesson takes place before we go out on the casino floor, in what we call the pre-play interview. It’s where we get to know the student; we ask them what their expectations are.”

During her recent visit to the Taj, Pickett had hoped to learn what appeared to be an impossibly difficult and complicated game. Craps is a breeze once you master the basic, easy-to-grasp fundamentals.

Pickett noted the $100 fee was pretty much irrelevant, because ACES provided her with $50 in “match play” vouchers as well as other casino premiums.

via CasiNotes: Taj Mahal’s gambling classes take students ‘live’ | Philadelphia Daily News | 06/04/2010.

Interesting concept. Obviously there’s a small market for this kind of thing, and ACES is filling it. It makes you wonder why casinos don’t do this themselves.

Happy birthday Trump Taj

I somehow missed celebrating one of the biggest milestones in Atlantic City gaming history earlier this month: on April 2, the Trump Taj Mahal celebrated its 20th anniversary. But I did write a little about the road to opening in this month’s Casino Connection:

Even before Atlantic City’s first casino, Resorts International, opened in 1978, its owners planned to build a second, 1,000-room building on the site of the old Chalfonte Hotel. They even built a bridge to the site—a bridge that still goes nowhere.

In 1980, Harrah’s bought the Chalfonte land. Resorts President James Crosby then turned his sights to Pennsylvania and Virginia avenues, envisioning a 38-story hotel atop a massive convention complex. A sky bridge would link it to a renovated Steel Pier, whose attractions would bring back the glory days of Atlantic City.

The enormous resort—more than twice the size of the average casino—needed a theme. A Venetian theme was considered, as was a Byzantine look. Architect Francis X. Dumont finally decided to model it after a marble mausoleum built in India in the 17th century. The Taj Mahal was a curious inspiration for a casino, but its onion domes and minarets became Dumont’s design signature.

via The Crown Jewel | The Crown Jewel | Casino Connection Atlantic City.

As I’ve probably said before, I used to work at the Taj, so this was a fun one to write. As usual, there was way too much to include for the article space, so a few things have been cut between my last draft and the published article.

I guess it’s appropriate to remember the opening at a time when Trump appears to be ready to rebuild his casino empire, yet again.

Casino manager murdered in AC

This story is just appalling: a disgruntled patron shot a Trump Taj Mahal casino executive in cold blood, allegedly because he was frustrated by his roulette losses. From the AC Press:

Despite his claims that he racked up millions of dollars in gambling losses, the accused killer of a casino supervisor actually won $1,100 this year playing roulette at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, a Trump executive said.

Gambling records dating to 1995 also show that Mark E. Magee lost $6,435 at the Taj Mahal’s gaming tables in the past 14 years, according to Mark Juliano, chief executive officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc.

Juliano said the casino’s records suggest that Magee lied when he told police investigators that he was a compulsive gambler who has lost millions over the years. Magee also claimed that casino had cheated him by rigging the games.

“He’s lost $6,435, so his math is a little off,” Juliano said mockingly in an interview Saturday.

Calling Magee’s cheating allegations “ludicrous,” Juliano said New Jersey’s tightly regulated casino industry and the Taj Mahal’s own financial controls make it virtually impossible to fix games.

“I think it’s important to refute the idea that anything could happen because it’s impossible because of the controls we have in place,” Juliano said.

Magee, 57, of Norristown, Pa., is accused of gunning down Taj Mahal shift manager Raymond Kot near the casino floor on Wednesday. He has been charged with murder and weapons offenses and is being held in the Atlantic County Jail on $1 million cash bail.

Police investigators in Norristown said Magee claimed that, in the past three or four years, he would always be winning at the roulette table until a casino manager he knew as “Ray” — apparently referring to Kot — would arrive. Magee said he believed Ray would then make a call to someone to rig the game, and the losses would start.

“His intent was to kill someone from upper management from the casino because they were responsible for him losing his money,” Norristown Detective Raymond E. Emrich wrote in a police affidavit.

Trump executive says alleged killer lied about gambling losses, rigged games.

Most of you know that I used to work at the Taj, and I remember Ray Kot from my time there. We didn’t know each other socially or anything, and interacted about as much as you’d expect a very junior surveillance operator and a senior casino manager to. But I remember him as a nice guy who knew his job well and seemed to enjoy doing it.

Magee’s claims are ridiculous. Even if you accept the dubious proposition that a casino manager could somehow affect the outcome of a roulette game by making a phone call, the story makes no sense. If he started losing every time Kot came on shift for the past three or four years, why didn’t he just cash out and walk over to Showboat or Resorts when he saw Kot arrive? There are covered bridges to both properties, so he wouldn’t even have to go outside. It would take maybe ten minutes to cash out, walk over, and buy in. It’s tragic that a good man with a family lost his life for something as senseless as this.

That being said, this murder might prompt casinos to review their security profiles. I can’t see American casinos installing metal detectors at the door like Macau casinos do, but increasing on-floor security and giving them better training in recognizing and dealing with situations like this–where a distraught man was apparently stalking Kot–wouldn’t infringe on the freedom of guests and would greatly increase the safety of both guests and employees. There was recently a murder at Caesars Palace here in Las Vegas, where the victim–a casino restaurant employee–and the alleged killer knew each other. In an open society, there will always be tension between crime prevention and liberty, so there’s no easy answer to this problem. This murder could have happened anywhere–in a restaurant, a hospital, or a school. But people often have the presumption that casinos are safer than other institutions because of the increased security profile. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

“New Taj” opens

My old stomping ground the Trump Taj Mahal has gotten a makeover and is getting a new hotel tower. From the AC Press:

They are de-Tajing the Taj. First they ripped out the gaudy pink and purple hues that dominated the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resorts over-the-top decor since the 1990s.

Then they converted the stark main hallway connecting the parking garage with the casino into a promenade of retail shops and restaurants called Spice Road to create a more inviting entrance.

Next came sophisticated European-style penthouse suites, a spruced-up casino floor and a sexy lounge called Ego that everyone jokes immediately brings to mind the swaggering personality of Donald Trump.

Now get ready for the most dramatic part of the Taj Mahals transformation: a brand new, shimmering $255 million hotel tower that rises 40 stories and symbolizes the rejuvenation of the Trump casino empire.

"For us, its really important," said Mark Juliano, chief executive officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., parent company of the Taj Mahal and two other Trump casinos. "With the limited amount of capital that the company has, we thought this was the best use of $255 million that we could have ever done."

Taj Mahal prepares to open doors on new 40-story hotel tower

Here’s the Chairman Tower, from the roof of the Showboat parking garage. I can guarantee that some of the guests in the CT will have stunning views of the Showboat’s garage:

Somehow “Chairman Tower” sounds wrong to me. It doesn’t sound like a building at all, but like the chairman of the Tower Commission.

That aside, the Taj looks great. There’s nary a sign of the old pink and purple anywhere. They didn’t get the casino carpeting right, but you can’t ask for everything.

Taj bac pit gets makeover

Don’t necessarily believe what you read: they just remodeled the Taj bac pit and are now calling it a salon. For a laugh, check in there and ask for an appointment for a cut and color. From the AC Press:

This is no mere gambling den or baccarat pit, but rather, ahem – French accent required – a gaming salon.

Drawing inspiration from the chic gaming parlors of Monte Carlo, Paris, Macau and other cities worldwide, it features tuxedo-clad dealers, crystal chandeliers and gently cascading fountains.

Gamblers are pampered in elegant surroundings, but they also should know that it may not be all fun and games. Some serious money will be spread around in the new high-stakes gaming salon at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.

“When you step down there, youve got to ante up. This is not for the faint of heart,” said Mark Juliano, chief executive officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., the company that operates the Taj Mahal and Donald Trumps two other Atlantic City casinos.

Bets range from $100 to $6,000 per hand at the nearly 30 baccarat, blackjack, craps and roulette tables in the salon. Rosalind Krause, Taj Mahal general manager, also noted that special games for ultra-high rollers can be set up consisting of top bets of $100,000 for baccarat and $25,000 for blackjack.

That much money may be unthinkable for gamblers who are used to plugging away at penny or nickel slot machines, but Juliano said the typical customer in the gaming salon will be $200,000 to $500,000 players, and, in some cases, $1 million to $2 million.

“Most of them are men. They are domestic and international gamblers. Many are Asian or Latino customers, primarily from the Northeast – Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.,” Juliano said.

The Taj Mahals gaming salon is part of a trend toward high-end gambling attractions to separate Atlantic City from the low-stakes slot parlors popping up in Pennsylvania and New York. Atlantic City is reinventing itself as more of a Las Vegas-style, overnight tourist resort of upscale gambling, retail shops, restaurants and nightclubs to counter extra competition from surrounding states.

“What distinguishes us from those markets are our hotel rooms and table games. Thats why were making such a big investment in table games and rooms,” Juliano said. “High-end customers are very important to us. More important than ever before.”

The $5 million gaming salon continues the transformation of Trumps flagship Taj Mahal from a gaudy pink- and purple-hued throwback to the 1990s to a more sophisticated casino decorated in softer brown, gold and beige tones. Next on the list is a new high-limit slots area scheduled to be completed by this summer.

New gaming salon at Trump Taj Mahal features big bets, lavish decor

That’s a very specific target group the Taj is shooting for: “domestic and international.” And they might be…Asian. Speaking a language that might be…Asian. That’s a rare Cable Guy reference, if you didn’t catch it.

They should just be honest and say, “We don’t really care who comes in here, as long as they’re gambling big money.”

Also, I get a kick out of “gaudy pink- and purple-hued throwback to the 1990s” for two reasons. First of all, it makes it sound like the 1990s were fifty years ago. Second of all, when I think “1990s” in design, gaudy pink and purple hues don’t automatically come to mind. In fact, I can’t think of too many places besides the Taj that had a big pink and purple thing going on. So it’s not a throwback to a grunge aesthetic, just the design choices of the previous managers.