ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — Beset by crushing debt, fleeing customers and run-down facilities, Trump Plaza on Tuesday became the fourth casino in Atlantic City to shut down this year.
The 30-year-old casino at the heart of the Boardwalk had been the town's worst performing for years. It won about the same amount from gamblers this year as the market-leading Borgata takes in every two weeks. And at pennies on the dollar, no one wanted to buy it.
Trump Plaza is the latest victim of casino contraction brought on by competition in neighboring states in the saturated northeastern U.S. gambling market.
Atlantic City began the year with 12 casinos; it now has eight. The Atlantic Club, Showboat and Revel also closed, and the Taj Mahal could be next on Nov. 13.
Theresa Volpe, a cocktail server at the Plaza for 26 years, is looking for a new job — along with about 8,000 others suddenly cut loose by Atlantic City's casinos since January. An unemployment assistance session will be held Wednesday at Boardwalk Hall.
"I don't know if we're going to have a difficult time because of our age," she said. "Someone in their 50s is not necessarily what they want. Friends have been on interviews and they never get called back."
Dealer Ruth Hardrick worked at Trump Plaza for 26 of its 30 years. She, too, is jobless.
"You think something will come along (to save the casino)," she said. "And it didn't."
Donald Trump told The Associated Press that he "will be taking a very serious look" at buying back the company after it declared bankruptcy this month and that the decision will come down to price. He said he would then have to determine whether Trump Plaza is "viable" and worth re-opening.
"I got out years ago, the timing was good, but I feel really badly about the people," Trump said. "I'll take a good strong look at it."
Trump owns a 9 percent stake in Trump Entertainment Resorts and went to court last month to try to get his name removed from the properties.
Trump Plaza had its heyday in the '80s and early '90s. Bedazzled with chandeliers, it hosted many a star-studded after-party when a big event like a Rolling Stones concert or a Mike Tyson prize fight was held next door at Boardwalk Hall. The casino even had a cameo in the film "Ocean's Eleven;" when George Clooney and Brad Pitt recruited actor Bernie Mac's character to help with a Las Vegas casino heist, they plucked him from Trump Plaza, where he was a dealer.
Unlike Revel, which opened just over two years ago and was considered new and luxurious before closing, or the still-profitable Showboat, shuttered by its owner in the name of reducing competition for the remaining casinos in town, the demise of Trump Plaza could be seen a long way off.
Gamblers have been abandoning it for newer, ritzier casinos for years. Its owners, Trump Entertainment Resorts, let it deteriorate in recent years, particularly after a sale for the bargain-basement price of $20 million to a California firm fell through last year.
Yomari Blanco, a housekeeper at Trump Plaza for 18 years, plans to file for unemployment this week, and may go back to school.
"It's really hitting me," she said. "You realize the reality that's coming right at you."
Jim Redmond is a 60-year-old from Montreal who loves Atlantic City and regularly stayed at Trump Plaza. He says its decline was obvious over the last seven years.
"It was so sad to see it get a little worse every year, he said. "They really seemed to give up about five years ago."
A glass-enclosed walkway over Pacific Avenue would be blistering hot under the sun because of the property's frantic cost-cutting moves. Air conditioning the area was one of the expenses deemed non-essential.
Illuminated letters advertising the casino's name on its front and back facades burned out and were never replaced. Restaurants have been shut down for months, and a self-serve kiosk to redeem player's club points near the parking garage was disconnected and covered in dust.
Associated Press writer Josh Cornfield in Trenton contributed to this report.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC