UPDATE: Carl Icahn now says he’ll try to sell the Trump Taj Mahal casino, saying the legislature’s approval of the bill was the last straw. A message posted to Icahn’s website says he’s convinced that “other large investors will similarly have no interest in investing significant amounts in Atlantic City or New Jersey as long as [Stephen] Sweeney is in control of the Senate.”
On Monday, Christie (pictured left) signed 14 bills into law, while vetoing five others, including one passed last December that imposes a five-year gaming license suspension on any casino owner who shut an Atlantic City gaming venue after January 2016.
Icahn (pictured right), who acquired the Taj in 2014 after its previous owners filed for bankruptcy, shuttered the property in October 2016, claiming he saw “no path to profitability” for the casino. The closure followed two years of strife with the property’s unionized workforce, who refused to accept Icahn’s demands to surrender certain health and pension benefits.
Workers accused Icahn of planning to reopen the property with a non-union workforce, prompting legislators to draft and approve their anti-closure bill, which they claimed was designed to encourage owners to keep properties open but also to prevent owners from “sitting on” licenses.
AND UNIONS HAVE COOTIES, TOO
On Monday, Christie issued a letter to lawmakers saying their bill “represents the legislature at its worst.” Christie accused legislators of making “a transparent attempt to punish the owner of the Taj Mahal casino for making the business decision to close its doors after its union employees went on strike and refused to negotiate in good faith.”
Christie said the bill raised constitutional issues, given its “retroactive punishment for conduct that was lawful at the time it was committed.” Christie also believes the bill won’t achieve its aims, in that it “does not prevent another party from obtaining ownership of the Taj Mahal and opening it with nonunion labor.”
Not mincing words, Christie said all the bill did was “confirm that New Jersey’s unions, and the members of the legislature who blindly do their bidding, remain among the most destructive forces and significant obstacles to economic growth in this state.” Christie said the bill would scare off other businesses from investing in AC, based on the legislation’s message that businesses “must ‘play ball’ with the unions or face retaliation by the legislature.”
It remains to be seen how legislators will respond to Christie’s move, which was widely expected, given Christie’s traditional anti-union sentiments and the fact that Icahn is close to US President Donald Trump, for whom Christie actively campaigned during the 2016 election.
Legislators approved the bill by veto-proof margins in both the state senate (29-6) and assembly (60-17), meaning they could nullify Christie’s veto by bringing the legislation up for another vote.
Despite his proclaimed lack of faith in the Taj turning a future profit, Icahn has indicated he’s not interested in selling the property. Indeed, Icahn slapped a deed restriction on the Taj that would bar potential buyers from operating a casino on the premises unless they paid Icahn an unspecified additional fee.