As president, Donald Trump has said he’ll get his way on the world stage — by making Mexico pay for a border wall and China change its trade policies, for a start.
But he didn’t get his way on some crucial issues in a much smaller arena — Atlantic City in the 1990s.
He found himself going up against another powerful casino mogul, Steve Wynn, then head of Mirage Resorts, which planned to build a Vegas-style casino in the Marina District.
Trump called Wynn a “scumbag” and someone with “a lot of psychological problems ... a very disturbed person,” according to Chris Smith in a Feb. 16, 1998, New York Magazine article, “Clash of the Titans.”
In spite of that history, Wynn is now a campaign consultant for Trump and recently hosted a meeting between Trump and Republican strategist Karl Rove at Wynn’s Las Vegas apartment, according to Rove in a Fox Business interview.
But in the 1990s, Wynn and Trump badmouthed each other and raided executives from each other’s properties.
The fight over building the tunnel connecting the Atlantic City Expressway to the marina district led them to file lawsuits and brought the rhetoric to a new level.
Trump criticized the tunnel as “corporate welfare” and a “private driveway” to Wynn’s planned Mirage casino, blasted city officials for giving Wynn the land for the casino for $1 and attacked then-state Sen. Bill Gormley for sponsoring legislation to make the state pay for a pollution cleanup there.
He even suggested Wynn’s activities on the site might threaten the aquifer and the health of people visiting.
“It’s not going to happen,” Trump said of the tunnel in 1996.
But the tunnel was completed in 2001.
The Miss America Parade tried to get the two to act as co-grand marshals in 1999, knowing people would flock to see the two sitting next to each other in the lead car.
Trump and Wynn both declined.
State Sen. Jim Whelan was the mayor of Atlantic City during the battle over the tunnel, which he supported as a benefit to the city as a whole. He felt first-hand the sting of a Trump attack.
“I was at a state conference of mayors meeting at the Taj Mahal. Donald came into the luncheon — it was a packed room with elected officials from around the state and Cabinet people — and said he wanted to welcome everyone to the Taj Mahal,” said Whelan.
“Then he gets up and does a speech attacking me,” said Whelan, who was sitting on the dais.
Whelan said a waitress handing out salads bent over to him and whispered, “Don’t pay any attention to him.”
Trump opposed the tunnel even though he had his own property that would benefit from it, Trump Marina Hotel Casino, which is now Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
“He didn’t want the competition,” Whelan said.
Wynn left Atlantic City in 2000 after selling Mirage Resorts to MGM in a hostile takeover bid, and MGM went on to build Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa with Boyd Entertainment as partner.
But that also meant MGM gave up its plans to build a Boardwalk casino in the city’s Inlet section.
“That was one of the most depressing days as mayor, when MGM bought Mirage and they were not going to build in the Inlet,” said Whelan.
Revel Casino Hotel was eventually built on MGM’s Inlet site, only to close in 2014.
Wynn came around to being a Trump friend by October 2006. At the time, the Atlantic City gaming win was at its height of $5 billion a year, and Trump announced he and Wynn were talking about partnering to build a $3 billion megaresort to dominate the heart of the Boardwalk.
It never happened.
Longtime casino executive Steven Norton said he admires Trump and considers him a friend, even though he had a hand in costing Trump millions by blocking his ability to be paid a management fee after he bought controlling stock and became chairman of Resorts International.
EDITORS NOTE: This story original ran on June 26, 2016 and is being reposted today because o…
“I never saw anybody that he lashed out against, like some of my other employers. He was always cordial and respectful, and I never saw any hint of discrimination like we’re reading about in the newspapers these days,” said Norton.
The board asked the five top Resorts executives, including Norton, to give their opinions on the fee.
“Everybody gave their approval but me. My thoughts were, we’ve already got management running Paradise Island and Atlantic City successfully. Why should the shareholders pay for two?” said Norton.
The board approved the management fee, but it required Casino Control Commission approval.
“The Division of Gaming Enforcement called me as a witness (before the CCC). I felt more like I was being prosecuted,” said Norton, who had to talk about his opposition to the Trump management fee while Trump sat there and watched.
“The commission agreed with me. So I cost him millions a year, probably,” said Norton, adding he did recommend Trump receive a fee for overseeing the Taj Mahal construction. “But he didn’t retaliate. In fact last time I saw him we were still friends.”
However, when Trump later made a deal with Merv Griffin to take the unfinished Taj Mahal in exchange for giving Griffin his stock and interest in the rest of Resorts, Trump didn’t elect to take Norton with him, Norton said.
Trump has proposed several plans that never materialized.
He once proposed building a $1.5 billion casino next to Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino but abandoned the project in 2003.
Other plans were for a huge amusement pier with a roller coaster over the ocean for Steel Pier and for the world’s most fabulous yacht to come into Trump Marina and dock for the high rollers, Whelan said.
“Obviously we are still waiting,” Whelan said.
One thing Trump wanted and got, though, came through legislation from Gormley. That was an end to the restriction that any operator be limited to controlling three casinos.
While Trump’s plans for more than three casinos didn’t pan out, it led to other centralizing of the industry.
“I was opposed at the time, and I still think it was a bad thing for the town in restrospect,” Whelan said. “It was harmful down the road when Caesars began buying up property and became so dominant.
“But Trump won that one,” Whelan said.