4:30 p.m. The company that bought Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal casino still wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey just outside New York City.

Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen tells The Associated Press his company remains committed to its plan to build a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford if voters change the law to allow it.

2:20 p.m.: Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said the overwhelming rejection of a November ballot question that would have allowed casinos in North Jersey, played a key role in Hard Rock coming to the resort. If the ballot question had passed, Jeff Gural, owner of the Meadowlands Racetrack, would have looked to partner with Hard Rock International to build a 650,000-square-foot property with 200 gambling tables and 5,000 slot machines at the site.

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"By standing up for working families and winning the fight to stop North Jersey casinos, we paved the way for Hard Rock to cancel its plans to build a casino in the Meadowlands and buy the Taj Mahal, providing 3,000 jobs for local families and breathe new life into Atlantic City,” Brown said. 

1:30 p.m.: Glenn Straub, owner of the former Revel, said the Hard Rock will bring more people that end of the Boardwalk. Straub didn’t give a day as to when his property will open.

“Anybody that is going generate business is going to be a good thing,” Straub said Thursday. “I know the Hard Rock and they will attract people to the area.”

12:40 p.m.: Council President Marty Small said the Taj-Hard Rock deal is just the latest in a string of good news for the city, citing the recent tax settlement with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

"Good news about Atlantic City seems to be the pattern of the last few weeks," Small said. "Now one of our shuttered properties is being taken over by a reputable brand in Hard Rock, which is very exciting in Atlantic city. It shows people are still bullish on Atlantic City."

Small added he would work with Hard Rock to make sure a lion's share of the estimated 3,000 jobs the project will create will go to Atlantic City residents. 

12:30 p.m.: Could Hard Rock's purchase of Taj Mahal also give it a foot in the door for a North Jersey casino?

Brigid Harrison, political science professor at Montclair State University, said the inclusion of Hard Rock creates "six-degrees of separation to Jeff Gural, the Meadowlands Racetrack owner who wanted a Hard Rock casino in North Jersey.

Harrison noted the bill creating the ballot question for North Jersey casinos -- overwhelmingly rejected by voters in November -- included language that gave favorable gaming license consideration to entities that already operated casinos in Atlantic City.

"It would seem to me that this deal benefits not only Atlantic City in terms of the development of the Hard Rock, but also has the eventual potential to help Gural in his pursuit of an additional casino in the Meadowlands," she said. "It’s a foot in the door for Hard Rock."

11:45 a.m.: City Councilman Frank Gilliam called the Taj Mahal sale "awesome news" for the city.

"Hard Rock is a sign Atlantic City’s hard times will soon be behind us," Gilliam said. "A brand like Hard Rock is something that could pretty much be the change we were looking for and be the change Atlantic City needs."

Developers Joseph Jingoli and Jack Morris are partnering with Hard Rock to buy the Taj. When Gilliam was council president in 2015, the council voted to name Jingoli and Morris conditional redevelopers of the Southeast Inlet. The move was criticized at the time as being rushed, and the resolution was rescinded the next year.

On Thursday, Gilliam said the Taj deal was proof he was right in trying to make Jingoli and Morris the area's redevelopers.

"It shows that I had a vision to pick the right people for the right time to help Atlantic City thrive," he said.

11:00 a.m.: Getting a casino license should not be difficult for Hard Rock. In 2010, the company started the process when they wanted to build a music-themed property on the Boardwalk but project stalled after deciding not to make a $1 million payment for the license.  Any current review of the company would start in 2010 and go up until now.     

10:31 a.m.: Developer Bart Blatstein, who owns the Showboat Atlantic City hotel, called Hard Rock's purchase of the Taj Mahal "the best possible outcome for Atlantic City."

Blatstein's Showboat is next door to the Taj and is attached to the closed casino by a bridge.

"Right now I’ve got an empty building next to me, and I’m going to have one of the finest operators in the world attached to me," he said. "I’m thrilled."

Blatstein said he knows Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen personally. Blatstein partnered with Hard Rock for his proposed Philadelphia casino, but Pennsylvania regulators didn't award him a gaming license needed to open the casino. 

"So I know Jim Allen and the whole crew," he said. "They’re great."

10:15 a.m.: People walking the Atlantic City boardwalk this morning share their thoughts about the purchase of the Taj by Hard Rock 

10:00 a.m.: While Hard Rock is an excellent addition to the boardwalk its doesn’t solve all of the city’s problems, said Steve Norton, a former Atlantic City casino executive who runs a consulting company, Norton Management LLC;

“Hard Rock and the Seminole Tribe would be an excellent addition to Atlantic City, especially for the Boardwalk,” Norton said. “But by themselves, they don't solve the absence of demand 200 mid-week days and nights, in the Fall, Winter and Spring.”

9 a.m.: Bob McDevitt's statement on the sale of the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. pic.twitter.com/xrNBgRscd6

8 a.m.: Mayor Don Guardian said he expects a summer 2018 opening for the hotel and casino.

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Investor Carl Icahn announced the sale Wednesday after The Press of Atlantic City first reported the deal. The site will be re-branded as Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City as part of a $300 million purchase and renovation expected to create 3,000 temporary and permanent jobs.

The deal will allow Hard Rock, an entertainment, casino and resort chain with a global brand, entry into Atlantic City’s gaming market, something it first proposed in 2010.

Icahn, who also owns Tropicana Atlantic City and the shuttered Trump Plaza, said his company wanted just one operating casino in the city.

“A sale of the Taj Mahal therefore represents the optimal outcome for us,” Icahn said. “We wish Hard Rock and its partners the best of luck with the Taj Mahal.”

Icahn’s statement said the sale is subject to customary closing conditions but no financing conditions.

“We are excited to be part of this revitalization of Atlantic City, creating thousands of jobs to help local employment,” Hard Rock President and CEO Jim Allen said in a statement.

Allen is a 1978 Mainland Regional High School graduate, owns a home in Linwood and has strong ties to the Atlantic City casino industry.

Two other investors are the Jingoli and Morris families.

Joseph Jingoli is construction manager for Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus.

“We’re excited to be part of such an important project for Atlantic City,” Joseph and Michael Jingoli said in statement. “This project is led by a proven leader in gaming, brings hundreds of millions in new investment, creates hundreds of construction positions, countless positions within the Hard Rock Hotel and will bring thousands and thousands of new visitors to this great city.”

Jack Morris, head of the Morris family, is CEO of Edgewood Properties, a real estate development and property management company.

Taj Mahal, once owned by President Donald J. Trump, closed Oct. 10 amid a strike by Unite Here Local 54 union members. The closing put 2,100 people out of work.

“This deal is welcome news, not just for the 2,000 union workers who can look forward to greater job security and a hopefully healthier working relationship with management, but also for the greater Atlantic City region as a whole,” said state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland.

Sweeney sponsored a bill that would have punished Icahn for closing Taj. The measure would have disqualified a casino license applicant for five years if that person “substantially” closes a casino in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie later vetoed the bill.

Hard Rock operates 172 Hard Rock cafes, including a still-active restaurant at Taj. The Florida based-company also operates 24 hotels and 11 casinos.

By staying open, the Hard Rock restaurant in Atlantic City was losing “millions of dollars,” Allen said in November. It had about 100 employees.

In December, Trump Taj Mahal Associates LLC notified the Division of Gaming Enforcement it intended to surrender its casino license.

Christie, who enacted a law that gave the state control of the city’s finances in May, issued a statement Wednesday night on the deal, calling it “great news” for the state.

“There is no doubt that this purchase was encouraged by our efforts to stabilize the finances of the city government. Businesses now know that the years of irresponsible spending and taxing by the city government are over and they are ready to once again invest in Atlantic City,” the statement said.

Sweeney and state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, were the first public officials to speak about the deal before Icahn’s formal announcement.

Guardian praised the sale as a key step in redeveloping that end of the city’s Boardwalk.

“Now is the time to invest in our great city,” Guardian said. “The price is right. We need to bring back thousands of jobs for our Atlantic City residents and for South Jersey.”

Contact: 609-272-7239

​eserpico@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressSerpico

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