(Story published Friday, April 6, 1990)

ATLANTIC CITY -- Donald Trump officially opened his Taj Mahal Casino Resort Thursday with a laser light show, an enormous televised genie and a huge fireworks display that capped nearly a week of Trump-style media hype.

"What has happened here is really beyond my wildest expectations," Trump told a cheering crowd of thousands.

"They talked about $1 million a day," Trump said, referring to what he has cited as a break-even point. "I think we did that in the first few hours."

Earlier in the day, Gov. Jim Florio toured the building with Trump and vowed to help rebuild the city as a convention resort.

"We will be looking at all of the things that have to be done to make sure that the benefits that come from these facilities really go out to all the people," Florio said after the tour.

"The foremost thing is to understand that this should become a full-fledged convention center rather than just be totally dominated by the casinos," he said.

One of his goals, Florio said, was the development of first-class facilities at the Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township.

"There is a need for a world-class airport," Florio said. He added he was working with Rep. William Hughes, D-2nd, to try to resolve the problems that face the airport.

"An airport is a very important part of making this a convention center and obviously a convention center is needed as well," he said.

Florio left early in the afternoon, but by nightfall, the Virginia Avenue entrance to the 1,250-room casino-hotel complex was jammed with people for the opening ceremonies.

Trump, who already owns two other casinos here - Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino and Trump Castle Hotel & Casino - was introduced to the crowd by neighboring casino owner Merv Griffin, who fought Trump for control of Resorts International Inc. in 1988.

As Griffin climbed the steps, a tape of his first hit song, "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," started playing. Griffin cut the music short and quipped, "I used to have a lot of coconuts."

Resorts International Inc. is currently in Chapter 11 reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court because it cannot pay its enormous debts, including $325 million Griffin borrowed to buy Resorts.

Trump, Crosby praised

But Griffin said the Taj Mahal "is going to bring hundreds of thousands of new people to this city," and said the increase in business will help all casino operators.

State Sen. William Gormley, R-Atlantic, hailed Trump for helping to "revitalize and rebuild" the city and also paid tribute to James Crosby, the late Resorts chairman "who initially had this dream."

Mayor James L. Usry, whose introduction was greeted with boos mixed with applause, said Atlantic City will be a better place because of the Taj Mahal. Using a line from Trump's billboard in Las Vegas, Usry said, "the Taj Mahal is not a Mirage," a reference to the huge casino hotel built there by Stephen Wynn's Golden Nugget Inc.

One minor problem occurred when it was time to introduce Steven Perskie, the governor's chief of staff. The announcer first called him a state senator from Atlantic County and later identified him as "Jim Persico."

Several speakers, including Trump and Perskie, also paused to remember the three executives killed last October in a helicopter crash: Stephen Hyde, Trump's top executive in Atlantic City; Taj Mahal President Mark Etess' and Jonathan Benanav, Trump Plaza executive vice president.

The genie appears

After the speeches Trump rubbed a giant - nothing is small at Trump's Taj Mahal - Aladdin's lamp. Fabu, the ethereal Taj Mahal genie, then appeared.

Lasers sliced through the sky before converging on a crimson bow on the ribbon that was hung down the outside of the 42-story hotel tower. The bow opened, symbolically opening the billion-dollar Boardwalk behemoth.

For the next seven minutes, a bombardment of fireworks rocketed off the end of the old Steel Pier and burst over the facility while the theme from "Star Wars" and "Stars and Stripes Forever" blared from speakers around the scaffolding.

Only minutes after the ceremony ended, an estimated 2,000 invited guests, ranging from casino high rollers to local, county and state officials, jammed the hotel's 30,000-square-foot grand ballroom for a lavish party.

As a seven-piece band played, the guests formed lengthy lines at buffets and bars that ringed the perimeter of the room.

But anyone who came to the party specifically for some star gazing came away disappointed. With the exception of heavyweight boxer Michael Spinks and former Miss America Suzette Charles, celebrities were scarce.

There was some speculation that many stars who'd been invited to the event stayed away because they didn't want to compete with Trump's ego.

Rumors abound

But there was no shortage of rumors, especially when word began to spread that New York-based publicist Chuck Jones was registered at the hotel. Jones, who's worked for Trump in the past, represents actress Marla Maples, the "other woman" in Trump's marital problems.

Trump had originally invited - and then dis-invited - Maples to the Taj Mahal opening; Jones' presence in the hotel triggered gossip that Maples was on the premises.

Meanwhile, entertainer Michael Jackson is scheduled to check into the Taj Mahal today and receive a private tour of the property from Trump.

Although Jackson was in Washington, D.C., Thursday to receive an award from President Bush, one hotel worker insisted that the reclusive and shy singer was already at the Taj Mahal by midday Thursday; the worker even said Jackson was accompanied by his pet chimpanzee Bubbles.

The gaming hall opened on Monday for a state-mandated test of the facility. Gamblers were allowed to use play money at the gaming tables on Monday and real money in the slot machines. The table game operations went smoothly and gamblers were allowed to use small amounts of real money on Tuesday. But the slot machines were a serious problem.

Opening delayed

The opening on Tuesday, originally scheduled for 10 a.m., was pushed back repeatedly while gamblers grew impatient. Casino officials were unable to reconcile paperwork in the main coin bank and were unable to show where all of the casino's money was.

In addition, hundreds of slot machines suffered mechanical problems as coins became jammed.

The slot operations improved on Tuesday and Wednesday, but regulators were reluctant to end the test without having at least one full 18-hour session. In Monday's eight-hour test, the 3,008 slot machines won $713,000. Tuesday's six-hour session, with low table limits, generated a win of $289,764 at the slot machines and $49,000 at the gaming tables.

Regulators allowed the casino to raise the stakes at the gaming tables on Wednesday but continued to be concerned about the slot operations. Rather than end the test after Wednesday's session, as had been originally anticipated, the regulators called for a fourth day of tests with the gaming tales and slot machines open for the normal 18-hour gaming day.

With the crush of people in the building on Thursday - Trump officials estimated that more than 100,000 people went through the building - there were a number of malfunctioning slot machines and many of the 1,300 coin change machines either broke down or ran out of money.

Regulators were expected to review Thursday's operations at meetings this morning before deciding whether to end the test or possibly impose some restrictions on the slot operations.

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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