Union Members Protest The Atlantic City Taj Mahal’s New Owner

Carl Icahn, owner of the Taj Mahal Atlantic City, is being confronted by union casino workers protesting the removal of their health and pension benefits.

Carl Icahn, the new owner of the Atlantic City casino the Taj Mahal, is facing issues brought on by the unsettled actions of the casino’s previous owners. Casino union members picketed outside of the Taj Mahal on March 22, protesting the previous owner’s removal of benefits to its employees. The owners stopped health care benefits and pensions for many of the casino’s employees before the sale to Carl Icahn.

Icahn purchased the Atlantic City casino from Trump Entertainment Resorts in October 2014, through a bankruptcy court. Before the casino had declared bankruptcy, Icahn had already assumed much of the property’s debt.

During the proceedings, a judge ruled that the owners could remove all health care and pension benefits from any of the employees. This ruling was under one condition – Trump Entertainment would have to help pay for the costs associated with employees signing up for a new plan under the Affordable Health Care Act.

President of the casino workers’ union Bob McDevitt expressed his belief that Icahn is responsible for Trump Entertainment’s actions in a statement to the Associated Press:

“It’s clear to me that Carl Icahn has no intention to treat workers with respect in Atlantic City. He has the keys; now he has to pay the consequences for his actions.”

Since employee benefits technically ended before Icahn fully assumed ownership of the hotel, he claims there is no way he is responsible for the union workers’ troubles. Icahn says he knew nothing about the removal of employee benefits, but McDevitt argues he was not only aware but actually gave approval for the action.

In response to McDevitt’s accusations, Icahn has spoken out, claiming that the union president is trying to shut down the Taj Mahal. Icahn also added that McDevitt was behind the past four Atlantic City casino closures. Only eight casinos remain operational in Atlantic City; some of the survivors include the Golden Nugget, Caesars, Resorts, and of course the Taj Mahal.

Icahn’s issues with northern New Jersey casino expansion

Things won’t be getting any easier for Mr. Icahn. The state of New Jersey is attempting to pass a bill expanding casinos to areas outside of Atlantic City. The bill, which is to be voted on by the citizens of NJ in November, would allow two new casinos in Northern New Jersey. Icahn has spoken out against the expansion stating he won’t invest any money into the Taj Mahal if it passes. Icahn says it would make for a poor investment if the state chooses to remove Atlantic City’s long-term monopoly on NJ’s casino industry.

In an open letter to the protesting union members, Icahn spoke ominously about Atlantic City’s future:

“Simply put, north Jersey gaming will probably be a death sentence for the Taj and the Atlantic City economy. This is the issue that will make or break Atlantic City. This is the issue we should all be rallying against.”

In the letter, Icahn attempted to sympathize with union members’ predicament but ultimately stood his ground and refused to accept responsibility.

Atlantic City remains on the verge of economic collapse

Icahn isn’t wrong to be worried about the casino expansion; the city is in a dangerous financial situation. Currently, Governor Chris Christie is in the process of negotiating a state takeover of Atlantic City, but city officials have not been very receptive.

The town is estimated to be bankrupt by April 8, at which point it will be completely out of funds for non-essential services. Atlantic City mayor Don Guardian has been the biggest opponent of the takeover, as he believes the terms of the takeover are entirely unfair. Unfortunately for Guardian, he doesn’t have many sympathizers – Christie has expressed multiple times that poor management of the city is what’s responsible for issues.

Competitors Brace For PokerStars NJ Launch

The success of PokerStars NJ’s soft launch has the competition worried. Many have begun offering valuable promotions that might inspire customer loyalty.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE) has given PokerStars the go-ahead on its stateside launch. Currently, the online poker room is only available for play to an invite-only player pool of approximately five hundred. PokerStars is banking on the soft launch going well and plans to be fully operational on March 21, when it will be accessible for real-money play to the entire state.

Resorts Casino Hotel is partially responsible for the resurrection of stateside PokerStars. The Atlantic City-based casino is providing PokerStars with a land-based casino affiliation in an attempt to establish itself better in NJ’s online gambling industry.

Before the partnership, PokerStars was unable to reenter the United States due to legal issues stemming from the 2011 government crackdown on unregulated online poker. In the aftermath of those proceedings, PokerStars paid a hefty fine to the Department of Justice. The NJDGE recently decided to allow PokerStars back into the state, and it required the company to have a licensed casino partner.

Now that the launch date is looming just around the corner, other online poker rooms are starting to fret. The anxiety is very reasonable considering several online poker rooms are operating in the state.

How are NJ online casinos responding?

PokerStars is renowned for being the best online poker room around, and that’s making other NJ online casinos a bit nervous. 888poker announced on March 16 that it would begin its largest-ever online casino promotion. The correlation between 888’s customer loyalty promotion and PokerStars’ soft launch is incredibly apparent.

888poker has been operating in New Jersey for three years and is making sure the customers know it’s going to remain competitive. Despite 888poker’s ulterior motives, the Spring Fever Giveaway promotion does have an incredible amount of value for players.

The Spring Fever Getaway at 888poker has spared no expense in its attempt to overshadow PokerStars’ return. During the promotion 888poker plans on giving away PlayStation 4s, GoPro cameras, Beats by Dre headphones, and plenty of 888 merchandise. There will also be freeroll tournaments with substantial cash guarantees.

The lowdown on 888’s Spring Fever Promotion

The Spring Fever Giveaway is a promotion that promises to award over $300K in cash and prizes during the promotional period. Every week until June 19, 888poker will be running two $1,000 daily freerolls and one weekly $3,000 freeroll.

In an effort to maximize player participation in the Spring Fever Giveaway, the online poker room is giving each registered player two daily freeroll tickets and one weekly freeroll ticket at the beginning of the promotion. Freeroll tickets, cash, and bonus surprises are all part of the Spring Fever Giveaway.

Will the Spring Fever Giveaway be enough?

It is hard to say whether or not this promotion will be sufficient to dampen the blow of PokerStars’ launch, or if it will even encourage the customer loyalty 888poker is hoping for. One positive for 888poker is the fact that it shares a player pool with WSOP NJ. The increased liquidity between both sites will likely make it easier for the sites to continue offering a wide variety of games even if a lot of players decide to go and give PokerStars a try.

Owner Of The Revel Atlantic City’s NJ Casino License Application Is Under Review

Glenn Straub, real estate investor and owner of the closed Atlantic City casino Revel, has submitted an application to the NJDGE for a NJ casino license.

The Revel Atlantic City may get another shot to prove itself to New Jersey. When Revel opened in 2012, it was supposed to play a big part in the revitalization of Atlantic City. Governor Chris Christie even pushed through a proposal that allowed the state to invest 260 million dollars in the construction of the property.

The property, located directly on the AC Boardwalk, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2014. Over the three years in which the Revel was open, it racked up about 1.5 billion dollars in unpaid debts. After the Revel filed Chapter 11, its debts were consolidated and the property was put up for auction.

After a few small hiccups, Florida real estate investor Glenn Straub became the owner of Revel. Originally Straub was going to reopen Revel purely as a resort with typical hotel amenities. Now, Straub is seeking a NJ casino license and wants to run the property as a resort and casino. Kerry Langan, the spokesperson for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE), which also oversees the NJ online gambling industry, confirmed with the Associated Press that Straub’s application is under review.

Will Glenn Straub be approved for a NJ casino license?

The real question now is if Glenn Straub will meet the strict requirements that would allow him the license to operate a casino.

Straub has a reputation for being slightly eccentric, and this could potentially affect his approval from the state. Casino regulators require license recipients to be not only financially stable, but to show that they can run a casino competently as well.

In 2014 when Straub purchased Revel, he publicly claimed he had purchased the resort to build a tower and create his lifelong dream – a “university for geniuses.” He made statements claiming that if he failed to build the second tower he would implode the entire building.

In December, Straub was interviewed by the Press of Atlantic City. He made a statement acknowledging what people think:

“I’m a little eccentric about doing something that somebody else can’t do. I was put here to accomplish goals that other people can’t.”

How could the financial state of Atlantic City affect the opening of Revel?

In January, Straub estimated that the Revel would be open by June 2016, but the license review most likely will interfere with that.

Though there are many obstacles in the way of Straub’s casino license, it’s unlikely that his request gets denied outright. His purchase of the bankrupt resort did many favors for Atlantic City, and the property is huge – it spans over twenty acres. Finding a buyer for a monstrosity like that could prove terribly difficult, and having the second tallest building in NJ visibly abandoned is poor for morale.

It would absolutely be in the city’s best interest to have the property operating again. It seems extremely likely that even if Straub isn’t yet suitable for a casino license for some reason, the city will work with him to make that change and get Revel’s doors back open.

NetEnt Strikes Content Distribution Deal With PokerStars NJ

NetEnt has announced that it’s providing content for New Jersey’s newest online poker room – PokerStars. The Amaya subsidiary is launching on March 21.

Amaya, the owner of online poker room PokerStars, has signed a content distribution deal with Swedish game developer NetEnt. The agreement means NetEnt will be the first content provider of both mobile and desktop games for PokerStars NJ.

PokerStars opens for business in New Jersey on March 21. The deal between the two companies isn’t very surprising considering NetEnt provides content to many Amaya subsidiaries in Europe.

NetEnt content is currently provided to multiple NJ online casinos through a New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement transactional waiver. NetEnt has contracts with Borgata, Golden Nugget, Resorts Casino, Tropicana, Virgin, and Caesars.

In NetEnt’s announcement, Björn Krantz, Managing Director of NetEnt Americas, spoke positively about the new business relationship between the two companies:

“I am very pleased that we have been able to extend our successful partnership with Amaya’s extremely popular gaming brand PokerStars to also include the regulated online casino market in New Jersey.

PokerStars is one of the biggest online gaming powerhouses in the world, and the agreement is yet more proof of the trust and confidence that exist in NetEnt’s operational and portfolio capabilities. I am confident that PokerStars’ US player community will enjoy the enhanced player experience offered through our game portfolio.”

Online gambling proving easier to manage than land-based casinos

Since the legalization of New Jersey online gambling in 2013, operators have worked hard to show online gambling in a positive light. The industry has done an excellent job keeping its record blemish-free, thus making it difficult for opponents to criticize it.

Perhaps the biggest criticism from anti-gambling advocates before the industry launched was that it would be impossible to prevent underage gambling from happening online. However, there have been no reported instances of underage play since NJ’s online gambling legalization.

The same can’t be said of live casinos. Somewhat ironically, iGaming opponent Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was just fined $36,000 for an underage gambler violation in January 2016.

This incident at Sands wasn’t the first time the casino has encountered this particular problem – it has been fined multiple times for underage gambling violations.

Are opinions on RAWA changing?

Rumors have been circulating recently that Adelson may have had a change of heart on regulated online gambling within the United States. The change might mean that Sands’ crusade to pass the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) may be put on hold, at least for now.

Andy Abboud, VP of Government Relations for Las Vegas Sands, hinted about his company’s stance in an interview with Gambling Compliance (paywall):

“We haven’t backed off of our focus on [RAWA], but we need to find a way … to be able to shut down illegal offshore operators.”

Although Sands isn’t completely changing its position on RAWA, it is certainly changing its focus. It seems the growing popularity of online gambling has made Adelson refocus on an actual problem – unregulated offshore gambling.

The regulated online gambling industry in the U.S. can breathe a sigh of relief that a multi-billionaire will be spending a bit less cash (or perhaps none at all) on attempts to shut down their businesses. The industry will no doubt be watching Mr. Adelson’s actions closely in case he has yet another change of heart.

Slot Game Developer NetEnt Sees Increased Profits While Operating In New Jersey

Game Developer NetEnt ends its first year providing content to NJ online casinos with a bang. The company saw a fifty percent increase in profits over 2015.

Digital entertainment company NetEnt had a fantastic 2015. Between receiving a transactional waiver from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (allowing the company to operate within the state) and seeing nearly a 50 percent increase in profits for 2015, the company is doing quite well.

NetEnt posted its fourth quarter profits this February; the report covered earnings from October through December 2015. The report listed fourth quarter figures, a full year review, and significant events that attributed to the high fourth quarter.

Per Eriksson, President and CEO of NetEnt, expressed excitement for his company’s future and potential growth in the report:

“2015 was yet another fantastic year for NetEnt. Continued growing demand for digital casino entertainment and for our products helped us reach new record levels in terms of revenues, profits and cash flow.

The fourth quarter featured many new signed and launched customers, and strong growth. Revenues increased by 34.0 percent to 323.1 MSEK and operating profit rose by 51.6 percent to 121.8 MSEK, compared to last year.

We see good conditions for continued strong growth in 2016 supported by growing market shares in the UK, a large pipeline of signed customers yet to be launched, mobile growth and the expansion in North America.”

Factors that contributed to NetEnt’s success in the U.S.

During the 2015 calendar year, NetEnt acquired contracts with New Jersey online casinos the Golden Nugget, Caesars Casino, and Resorts Casino. Each of those properties was individually approved as a part of NetEnt’s initial transactional waiver. Additionally, NetEnt is now distributing games to Gamesys US which means they can found at both Tropicana and Virgin Casino.

The first contracts to be approved by the NJDGE were finalized in December, and were content distribution agreements with Resorts Casino, Atlantic City. These agreements allowed Resorts to distribute NetEnt games both for Resorts Casino and for its partner NJ online casino Mohegan Sun.

The future for NetEnt in New Jersey

Late in November 2015, NetEnt announced that it planned to discuss the possibility of a content contract with Amaya. Amaya is the corporate owner of both online poker room PokerStars and online casino Full Tilt. This opportunity was prompted by PokerStars’ approval to reenter the United States. PokerStars has officially announced that they expect to be operational in New Jersey on March 21.

The nature of the potential relationship between NetEnt and Amaya would likely take the form of a provider of content agreement. Basically, PokerStars NJ would host online gambling titles from NetEnt. This potential partnership is made somewhat more likely due to PokerStars’ stateside affiliation with Resorts Casino. This tightly wound network with limited access to game developers bodes well for NetEnt’s New Jersey future.

In an interview with Gambling Insider, PokerStars’ managing director Bjorn Krantz spoke about the positives that a content provider agreement would bring to both companies:

“We would very much welcome an extension of the partnership with PokerStars, but we need to sit down and discuss what both parties want. We will then see what we can agree upon.”

Carl Icahn Saves Atlantic City Casino Trump Taj Mahal From Bankruptcy

The Trump Taj Mahal Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ has been saved from inevitable bankruptcy by the current owner of the Tropicana Casino, Carl Icahn.

It is official – Carl Icahn is the new owner of the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. The agreement validating the transfer of ownership to Icahn Enterprises was finalized on February 26 in bankruptcy court. The Taj Mahal will be the second Atlantic City casino to be a subsidiary of Icahn Enterprises; the company also owns the Tropicana.

The Trump Taj Mahal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2014 and was set to close its doors at the end of February 2015. However, Icahn loaned the casino twenty million dollars to keep its doors open.

Icahn acted as a creditor to the Trump Taj Mahal, and his investment firm held over 286 million dollars of the casino’s debt. This gave him leverage when his company began its pursuit of full ownership in bankruptcy court. If Icahn had not decided to buy the Taj Mahal it almost certainly would have closed its doors for good, and that would have made the Taj Mahal the fifth Atlantic City casino closure in one year.

The Atlantic City casino is not in the clear yet

Bad news about the possible future for the Taj Mahal broke on March 2 when Icahn announced that he no longer plans to invest 100 million dollars into casino renovations. The reason he has decided not to renovate the 26-year-old casino is because of a bill that would expand casinos into North Jersey. Icahn believes that the expansion would negatively impact his company’s investments.

Icahn Enterprises announced the change of plans on the Tropicana Casino investor page on Thursday morning.

Icahn, who is Chairman of the board at Icahn Enterprises, made a statement that cited the reasons for the company’s change of plans:

 “Atlantic City has great potential to once again become a major tourist destination but only if everyone believes in and takes steps towards that goal.

Unfortunately, it appears that certain political leaders are lining up against Atlantic City because of their personal ambitions. They are FOR gaming in North Jersey, which as everyone knows would destroy thousands of jobs in Atlantic City and South Jersey.”

Icahn continued to elaborate that he felt slightly betrayed by New Jersey politicians whom he claimed made assurances to Atlantic City investors that the casino expansion would never happen.

Icahn ended his statement with a powerful comment about the actions of NJ politicians:

“If these assurances are now broken and Atlantic City is abandoned by politicians in favor of North Jersey gaming, why would anyone ever invest in the great state of New Jersey knowing that the assurances of political leaders in New Jersey mean nothing.”

North Jersey casino expansion and Atlantic City’s survival

It’s not just investor Carl Icahn who is concerned about Atlantic City’s future. On February 29 city residents, business owners, and community leaders protested the casino expansion in Trenton.

The arguments against the expansion from residents of the seaside town largely focus on the potential for increased job losses and additional casino closures.

Proponents of the bill have stated that the casino expansion bill is for the greater good of New Jersey. In past years, the state has lost millions of dollars in revenues due to neighboring states opening casinos. The proponents believe that this is the only way to counteract the massive losses the state has encountered.

Lawmakers have also stressed that part of the bill directly relates to tax dollars being funneled back to Atlantic City for relief.

The bill has already passed both a senate committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Now the bill awaits a public hearing which is scheduled for March 7. After this hearing, the bill will be voted on by both houses and if passed it will be on the November 2016 ballot so the citizens of New Jersey can ultimately decide for themselves.