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November 22, 2017

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I’m done with it’: Irritated Icahn plans to unload ex-Taj Mahal over political spat

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Mark Makela / The New York Times

The Trump Taj Mahal, which closed in October, is shown in Atlantic City, July 1, 2016. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who acquired the resort from bankruptcy, says he now plans to sell it after a political feud.

ATLANTIC CITY — Billionaire investor Carl Icahn says he will try to sell the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, blaming a failed bill by the leader of New Jersey's state senate as the last straw.

Icahn told the Associated Press on Monday he has decided to seek a buyer for the casino he shuttered on Oct. 10.

He said his mind was made up by a bill written by Senate president Steve Sweeney that would have punished Icahn for closing the Taj by stripping him of a casino license for the property for five years. That bill was vetoed Monday by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who called it an example of the state Legislature's worst instincts.

"After Sweeney's irresponsible actions, I have made a decision to sell the Taj if I can, but not to invest the $100 million to $200 million in it that I was going to," he said. "I'm done with it."

Sweeney, a Democrat, called the veto "dead wrong" and likened Icahn's business dealings with those of his friend and the casino's namesake, President Donald Trump. He accused Icahn of planning to shut the casino temporarily, then reopening it with reduced wages and benefits, presumably as a non-union facility.

"We don't want to have the policies and practices of President Trump and Carl Icahn used to strip away fair wages and benefits for working people in Atlantic City or anywhere else in New Jersey," Sweeney said. "Even now, Mr. Icahn continues to make threats after the governor vetoed the bill. It's his empty attempt to bully and intimidate, just like Trump."

Trump opened the casino in 1990 but lost control of it in a bankruptcy. Icahn acquired it from bankruptcy court nearly a year ago from Trump Entertainment Resorts, a company the president once owned but cut ties with in 2009.

Icahn closed it after a devastating strike by Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union, which could not get Icahn to sign a contract restoring health insurance and pension benefits that a bankruptcy court judge terminated in 2014. Icahn said the benefits were unaffordable in present-day Atlantic City and blamed the union for unnecessarily increasing the cost of doing business.

"This bill represents the Legislature at its worst," Christie said in his veto message. "It is 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."

Though the bill was certain to be vetoed by Christie, Icahn and other Atlantic City casino executives fear that the same bill revived under a Democratic governor could be enacted with damaging results. Christie's successor will be elected in November.

Icahn went after Sweeney in unusually harsh terms Monday, saying the measure would discourage "large investors like myself" from wanting to put money into Atlantic City or New Jersey.

Icahn said he had not spoken with Christie before the veto was announced, but thanked him for doing so.

"Unfortunately, as far as I'm concerned, Sweeney has already done irreversible damage to Atlantic City in particular and New Jersey in general," he said. "The combination of inexperience and power in a government leader is extremely dangerous and often fatal. Sweeney is the greatest proof of that."

Icahn would not say whether he has a buyer in mind for the casino, nor would he discuss the terms of a potential sale. In December, he filed a deed restriction preventing the property from being reopened as a casino, a restriction he would be free to remove as the seller.

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