Wayne Parry / AP
Published Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 | 12:08 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 | 1:34 p.m.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Thousands of Atlantic City casino jobs lost during a brutal three-year stretch when five casinos shut down are coming back.
Since 2014, casino closings eliminated 11,000 jobs and devastated the economy of the Atlantic City region. But for many laid-off workers, the first step on the road to recovery started Tuesday, when the shuttered former Trump Taj Mahal casino began interviewing job applicants for its reincarnation this summer as a Hard Rock casino resort.
The event was for former Taj employees. About 1,600 such workers were invited to apply for jobs, and 1,400 did. Hard Rock plans additional job recruiting events in the coming weeks for people who applied online and did not necessarily work at the Taj Mahal.
"This is the first brush stroke of the renaissance," said Matt Harkness, president of the Hard Rock, which plans to open this summer.
The casino will create more than 3,000 jobs. And it will be joined by another shuttered casino that's reopening its doors this summer: The former Revel casino, which closed in 2014, will reopen as the Ocean Resort casino, adding thousands more jobs.
Monica Weekes worked at the Taj Mahal since the day now-President Donald Trump, who was a real estate mogul at the time, opened it in 1990. She recalled its closing on Oct. 10, 2016, as a depressing day she couldn't believe was happening.
"I remember praying, 'Dear Lord, please let this stay open,'" she recalled. "But when one door closes, another opens, and Hard Rock is that door for me. I can't wait to show them what I've got."
Her spunky personality appeared to be just what Hard Rock was looking for in potential workers, some of whom sang, danced or just generally charmed interviewers. Outgoing personalities and big smiles were high on the list of desired traits.
Weekes described herself as "fun first."
"It's never a dull moment at my table," she said. "I'm very patient and loyal. You won't go wrong with me!"
George Mack was a casino shift manager at the Taj Mahal when it shut down, a day he recalled as "very gloomy."
"You knew the end was coming and you had to find another job in Atlantic City, and there weren't a lot of jobs there," he said.
Mack, who was raised in nearby Margate, got a job at the Dover Downs casino in Delaware but jumped at the chance to return home.
"I surfed right in front of this place as a kid," he said. "I have sand in my shoes."
Billionaire Carl Icahn, who owned the Taj Mahal, closed it in 2016 after failing to reach a deal with Atlantic City's largest casino workers' union to restore health insurance and pension benefits he terminated.
Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union, said it was gratifying to see so many former Taj Mahal employees going back to work.
"Hard Rock is a good company, and they recognize the fact that the Taj Mahal had an exceptional workforce," he said. "Those workers gave excellent service for decades."
Harkness, the Hard Rock president, agreed.
"There's institutional knowledge that comes from having worked here before," he said. "That's very valuable to us."