TRUMPED! Chapter 17

The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “TRUMPED!: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump–His Cunning Rise & Spectacular Fall” by John R. O’Donnell, Former President, Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino with James Rutherford from Chapter 17 on page 259 and I quote:

Good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all.”                                 –DONALD J. TRUMP

It would have been impossible to predict the magnitude of the coverage of the separation of Donald and Ivana Trump in February 1990.  At first, Donald was baffled by the sheer size of what even the New York Times called “the most talked about and written about divorce proceeding in years.”  But then it was clear that he was having a ball with it.  “The show is Trump,” he proclaimed, “and the show is sold out.”

The tabloids were in the front-row seats–“They Met in Church” . . . “Don Juan” . . . “Separate Beds” . . . “Best Sex I’ve Ever Had” . . . “Oh, Baby!  Is She Mommie Marla?”  It is all so deliciously steamy in the spotlight, and the papers gorged themselves on the wily, flamboyant billionaire, the loveless marriage, the glamorous wife, scorned and wretched, secret love nests with a buxom 26-year-old model and aspiring actress.  The headlines chased Donald for five straight days.  He was surprised but delighted about it all.  “Geez, Jack, did you read the papers today?  It’s just incredible.  It’s incredible.  “It’s unbelievable what they’re printing.”

I said, “I think you better do what you can to lay low.”

But I knew my suggestion made no impact at all.  Publicity was Donald’s element.  But what concerned me was that he had convinced himself that the media frenzy was good for business.  It was additional evidence that his judgment was dangerously skewed.

“What are you talking about, Jack?” he said.  “This is great for business.  I think this is great for business.  Don’t you?  Don’t you think this is great for business?”

“Donald, I’m being honest with you.  I think this is going to hurt us.”

“C’mon, Jack.  It’s the best thing that ever happened to us.”

“This is different,” I said.

“Nah, I disagree.”

“I’m only saying this, Donald, because a lot of our customers are married too.”

He replied, “The way this works is, this’ll bring all the men in.  They’re going to want to be with Trump.  Jack, this is good for business.  Trust me.  I know.”

That taught me, if I didn’t know already, that Donald was so self-centered and unfeeling that he put his business ahead of everything else.  His children, especially his eldest son, Donny, Jr., were devastated.  But there was a business advantage to be gained, or so he thought, and he continued to publicly promote his affair.  His family, it seemed, was expendable.  He went on record describing Marla as “better than a 10.”  “Denigrating the competition,” as he described the deal-maker’s art, he attacked his wife as “arrogant” and “another Leona Helmsley” (the hotel queen he’d previously described as “a vicious, horrible woman” and “a disgrace to humanity”), even as his mother and sisters and sister-in-law turned out to comfort Ivana at a tearful birthday reunion at La Grenouille in New York on Valentine’s Day.

For her part, Ivana played the role of the wronged wife and mother to the hilt.  “I am afraid,” she told her friend Liz Smith.  “I know the children and I will be Donald’s a next ‘project.’  I know how he is.  He will simply zero in on us.”

Sloshed around in the press as it was, the spectacle severely damaged Donald’s image.  Suddenly he looked like an ogre, emotionally abusive, self-centered, a money-grabber squabbling over a $25 million settlement with his wife, a mere 1 or 2 percent of his perceived billions.

What was of concern to me was the blow it struck at our business.  An integral part of our marketing strategy had always been directed at fostering relationships with our high rollers and with their spouses through a variety of entertainment and social events.  It was a conscious strategy designed to dispel the seamy cigar-smoke image of the gambling junket and the age-old association between gaming halls and prostitution.  In one week, Donald was tearing that down, leaving an impression that Atlantic City and the Trump casinos were places where the billionaire cheated on his wife with a much younger model.  The wives of some of our biggest players expressed disgust over the whole affair.  It soured many of the male customers as well.  One of my executives at Trump Plaza always said that the key to working for Donald was finding a way somehow to like him.  Donald was making that harder than ever.

One evening early in March, as the tabloid frenzy had begun to quiet down, Donald called me at about seven o’clock.  I was still in my office.  He was in his car, he said, on the way to his parents’ house in Jamaica Estates in Queens.

“So what’s up?” he asked rather aimlessly.

“Not much, Donald. What’s going on? What are you doing?”

“I’m with the kids.  We’re going to eat dinner,” he said.

I could hear them in the background, jumping and playing and having a good time, as children will in the back seat of a car, even if it is a limousine.  I told him “That’s good.  That’s real good.”

“Yeah,” he said with a small chuckle.  Then he must have moved away from the phone because I heard him holler, “Ivancka!  Stop that!”  But whatever she was doing, the little girl continued laughing and shouting merrily.

He mentioned a billboard he’d passed on the highway, a Trump Castle billboard.  He was unhappy with the message and the colors, he said.  “You know how this billboard should look, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then you’ll fix it for me.”

“Sure, Donald.”

That’s how it was with him.  Whenever he wanted the Castle to do what he wanted, he invariably called someone at the Plaza because he knew we understood what he wanted.

“Jack, do me a favor.  Call the people at the Castle.  Tell them to get their shit together. . . . Donny!  Sit down!  Don’t do that. . . . Tell them what I want on the board.  You guys know what I want on a billboard.”

“I’ll take care of it,” I said.

“Ivancka. . . I want you to sit down right now.  Get away from there. . . Donny!  Shut that window!”

I laughed to myself as I listened.  I felt happy for him.  I said, “Hey, Donald, I’m glad to see you’re spending some time with the kids.”

“Yeah, this is good for them. . . . Donny, don’t do that, I said!. . . Yeah, and it’s good for me, too; it’s good for me to be with them.”

When I hung up the phone I shook my head.  Well, what do you know, I thought.  He is a human being.

Although Donald refused to believe it, the criticism of his personal conduct was affecting business.  In Japan, Donald had represented an almost godly image of wealth and power.  Now suddenly he was more than human.  With the news of his separation, investors with whom he had negotiated a tentative sale of the Plaza Hotel shied away from the scandal.

The first week of March, Newsweek brought it all home with the headline: “Divorce Isn’t His Only Worry. . . Souring markets and a soiled corporate image could spell trouble for Donald Trump’s empire.”  The securities analyst Marvin Roffman of Janney Montgomery Scott was quoted again, still skeptical about the Taj Mahal’s and Donald’s chances.  “He will have to do on a steady basis something that no other casino in the world has ever been able to do,” Roffman said.

Donald countered with the announcement that Marla was coming to the grand opening of the Taj Mahal on April 5.  Donald calculated that the news of Marla’s appearance would guarantee that an army of journalists from around the world would descend on Atlantic City for his newest and grandest venture.  His family was outraged, as I was told, and it was only Fred Trump’s blunt warning that he would not attend the opening that forced his son to keep her away.

By then Donald had seen our poor revenue figures for February.  He called me in an angry mood.  “Look at your shitty results,” he said.

“Donald, did you forget about Kashiwagi?” I said.

“Yeah, but you’re not number one in town anymore.”

“Yes, it was a wash with Kashiwagi.  But back Kashiwagi out and we are still number one by a landslide.”

“Oh, yeah” he said, “yeah, okay.”

Then he mentioned the Rolling Stones again, and asked for a progress report on our lawsuit against the rock group.  He had already called his brother-in-law John Barry’s law firm and spoken to one of the attorneys there, who, in turn, had called me.  The attorney and I had discussed it.  I didn’t believe we had sufficient grounds to undertake the large expense of a lawsuit, and I heard nothing to indicate otherwise.

This was the message I delivered to Donald that day.  But again he refused to accept it.  “I’m taking it to McGahn,” he said.

Sure enough, I got a call one day from a member of Pat Mc Gahn’s law firm, who asked me for the paperwork on the deal and informed me that they were taking the case.

Meanwhile, The Taj Mahal lumbered toward opening day.

On February 29, the casino passed a physical inspection and the New Jersey Casino Control Commission declared the building in compliance with state regulations.

After Mark’s death there had been considerably less enthusiasm among Trump Plaza’s employees to be part of the Taj.  The Taj personnel department was swamped with tens of thousands of job applications from elsewhere.  Neither Robert or Donald had any management expertise, and neither understood how important even one midlevel manager could be to a casino operation.  As opening day approached, Taj officials were simply picking up the phone and ordering us to send them whomever they required.

Responding to Wall Street’s concern about the $47 million interest payment due in May, Walt Haybert told the Atlantic City press, “Our project is on time, on budget, and there is no question that interest will be paid.”  He added, “For us to do a million a day is not a concern whatsoever.  Last year, Trump Plaza generated $836,000 a day.  For us to generate an additional $160,000 a day with twice the capacity, we don’t view that as a problem at all.”

Walt had called me in Januray to renew the request for our customer lists.  The Taj brain trust had been scratching for months for potential players–all kinds, high-end, middle and low–and in desperation was turning again to the only sources it could think of, Trump Castle and Trump Plaza.

I said, “Walt, it can certainly be done if that’s the decision that has been made.  But I think it’s an issue I need to discuss with Robert to make sure all the t’s are crossed and i’s dotted.”

Really, I hoped to stall.  Politically, it was a delicate issue.  Legally, it could be explosive.  I did not want to turn over the lists until I could get a conclusive legal opinion I trusted.  And we let the matter rest until a meeting of all three presidents in February at Robert’s temporary headquarters in a trailer on the island of Brigantine, just across Absecon Channel north of Atlantic City.

Robert opened the meeting by saying, “I’m aware of all the talk about this.  But we need the transfer of the lists.”

Of particular interest were Trump Plaza’s middle- to upper-middle markets, the $10,000 to $15,000 players with whom we’d enjoyed great success.  The Taj needed more of that type of customer than any place in town.  But they were looking for anything they could get, top end to low end, qualified lists or unqualified–even the lists pulled from the entry forms of a million-dollar promotional giveaway Trump Castle was sponsoring.

I took up the same argument Steve and I had mulled over the previous summer.  “I’ve got some concerns from the standpoint of the bondholders,” I said.  “It just doesn’t sound right on the surface that we can do this.  I’ll be honest with you, my people internally are very uncomfortable with it.  We need some assurance that they’re not going to be liable for this, particularly at the lower levels, because they’re very concerned.

Actually, I had already looked into it, and I was satisfied that, if we received compensation, we were on safe legal ground.  But how much compensation was adequate!  That remained an open question.

So what happened even before the opening was exactly what Donald promised would never occur: the Taj was building a customer base at the expense of the other Trump casinos.  To satisfy our bondholders, Robert did promise that six months after the opening, the Taj would transfer expanded lists back to the Plaza and the Castle which theoretically would allow us to tap into the huge mass of people we all assumed would flow through the Taj in its early months.  In the meantime, we were going to have to make the sacrifice.

Shortly after the disks were prepared and transferred, I stumbled on a bound copy of all our customer names and phone numbers.  It had been transcribed from the disks.  If it circulated, its contents would be revealed to anyone, without the safeguard of having to gain access to our computer code.  I was curious, since there could be no legitimate reason for the existence of the book.  And at the same time, I was furious.  I confiscated it and placed it in a drawer in my desk.

On March 20, licensing hearings for the Taj Mahal were scheduled to begin before the Casino Control Commission.  That morning, the Wall Street journal quoted Marvin Roffman again.  Asked about the Taj, he said, “When this property opens, [Trump] will have had so much free publicity he will break every record in the books. . . . But once the cold winds blow from October to February, it won’t make it.  The market just isn’t there.”

Donald fired off a letter to Janney Montgomery Scott threatening “a major lawsuit” unless their analyst retracted his statement.  “Unprofessional,” Donald called him, a “bad analyst,” an “unguided missile.”

Astonishingly, Janney caved in.  Roffman, 50 years old, a securities analyst for 25 years, with 12 years covering the casinos for a host of clients, was ordered to sign a letter of apology to Donald Trump, which said in part: “Contrary to the presentation in the [Wall Street Journal] article, I have every hope that the Taj will ultimately be very profitable. . . . I do hope that the Taj will ultimately be very profitable. . . . I do hope that you will forgive what has turned out to be a very unfortunate interview on my part.”

Roffman signed the letter.

Satisfied, Donald let the matter drop.  Roffman didn’t. The next day he reconsidered and wrote a second letter retracting his apology.  Janney fired him instantly, confiscated his files and escorted him out of their high-rise office building in downtown Philadelphia.  The episode sent a chill through the securities industry.  A Michigan congressman called on the SEC to investigate.  Donald was unmoved.  I was in Hong Kong at the time aboard the Trump Princess, entertaining some prospective Chinese high-rollers and trying to elicit a buyer for Donald’s high-priced floating mansion, which he was anxiously trying to unload.  We didn’t find a buyer.  My wife, Lisa, called me and told me what happened.  Donald called shortly after, and I asked him about Roffman.  “Ah, that little shit,” he said.  “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  He said some bad things.  He’s been out for me for years.”

I said, “But with everything that’s happened, Donald, do you think we want this kind of publicity?”

“Jack, this guy’s always been bad.  He’s bad for the industry.  They obviously got sick of him at his company because they got rid of him.”

He never mentioned another word about it.

On March 29, the Taj Mahal was granted a license by the Casino Control Commission subject to completing a successful test run and receiving its certificate of operation.  Within hours, Donald showed up in Atlantic City to host a rollicking pep rally for his 6,000 new Taj employees, complete with a laser light show, rock music blaring through speakers and giant video projection of the property’s “mascot,” a Max headroom-style genie named “Fabu”–short for “Fabuluous”–who led the packed ballroom in choreographed cheers and exhorted the crowd to live up to the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”  The ballroom shook with cries of “Donald! Donald! Donald!” as he strode up the center aisle, waving and clasping hands, and took his place on the stage with Robert and Blaine, Harvey Freeman, Walt Haybert and Bucky Howard.  The Trump mystique was still a force in the public’s eyes.  Donald looked pale and visibly tired under the lights.  He turned to someone next to him and wondered aloud, “Am I paying all these people already?”

As long promised, “Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort” was ready to open its doors the following Sunday, April 1.  But then Donald said no; it was April Fool’s Day.  Instead, on Monday, April 2, at 10 A.M., the casino staged its first test run, a state-mandated “play money” day.  Players at its 167 blackjack, craps and baccarat tables were allowed to make a one-time exchange of $10 in cash for $100 in gambling scrip, with the win going to charity.  The exception was the 3,000 slot machines, which were open for cash play.  As customers poured in by the thousands to pull the handles and try their luck, problems were apparent almost immediately.  Millions of dollars changed hands, bills for coin and tokens.  The automated changemakers installed at the machines, upon which Donald had chosen to rely, were emptied in minutes.  Hundreds more broke down.  So many of the “trouble lights” were tripped atop the slot machines that Robert described the casino floor as resembling “a forest of candles.”  Slot attendants were overwhelmed by the demand for change and couldn’t deliver it fast enough to the players, who were forced to abandon their machines and queue in long lines at the only two manned change booths on the floor.  But at 6 P.M., when the casino closed, the Taj’s public relations office claimed the test run had gone flawlessly, and confidently predicted that the casino would be granted its certificate of operation ahead of schedule.

Earlier that afternoon, Donald had led a horde of reporters and TV crews on a tour of the mammoth property.  He appeared relaxed and thoroughly pleased with his accomplishment.  Effusive as always for the press, he pointed all around them to the year’s output of marble from the quarries of Carrara in Italy and to the $400,000 in carpets imported from England and the$14 million in lavish cut-crystal chandeliers from Austria that hung above their heads.

The tour concluded on the Boardwalk, beneath the giant minarets atop the casino’s long candy-colored facade.  It was gloomy, overcast day.  Donald stepped outside and into the flashbulbs with his dark topcoat opened against a biting ocean wind.  The cameras clicked away.  He broke a stiff smile that always looks like a sneer, that crocodile’s grin.

If the Taj Mahal would never make the annals of architectural wonders, it would survive as nothing short of a miracle of large-scale construction.  Donald truly believed the world would hold its breath in the face of what he had done.  He had silenced the critics, he had succeeded where Crosby and Resorts had failed, he had beaten Merv and frozen out Pratt.  Now he had to believe he would finally vanquish Wynn.  It’s no wonder that the Taj Mahal captivated him, just as it was now drawing to itself tens of thousands of gamblers and sightseers and journalists at that very moment to witness its birth.  If it was only an investment, it might have been indistinguishable from Donald’s other towers of glass and steel.  But the Taj Mahal was more.  It was an extension of his personality.  As surely as it drained every last ounce of his wealth to come into being, so the restless parvenue from Queens needed the Taj Mahal, as though to verify for himself and the world that his wealth existed for that time and for always.   It was a creature of his unbridled ambition, its very personification.  As he once confided to a doubting friend, “I have to have it.  It’s the biggest hotel in Atlantic City.  I can’t let anyone else have it but me.”

The casino industry’s revenues for March confirmed everyone’s worst fears.  The recession was making itself felt.  The Atlantic City gaming market had peaked, at least for the time being, and was settling into stagnation.  The win for all eleven casinos was $234 million, a meager 0.2 percent increase over the same month in the previous year–“as flat as yesterday’s glass of beer,” observed Al Glasgow.  The figures for the first quarter showed total win at all the properties of $654.4 million, a $2 million decrease from 1989.  The industry as a whole reported a $4.3 million net loss, a $10 million decline from the previous year’s $6 million first-quarter profit.

“It becomes even more obvious that the Trump Taj Mahal’s entrance into the Atlantic City marketplace this month is critical to citywide gaming revenue growth,” Glasgow said in Atlantic City Action.  He predicted the Taj would break all records with $42 million in win its first month.  “For those who say the Taj Mahal and Donald Trump will never make it. . . Guess what?  He already has. . . . Trump Taj Mahal is now holding the dice.””


LaVern Isely, Progressive, Independent, Overtaxed Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen Member and USAF


About tim074

I'm a retired dairy farmer that was a member of the National Farmer's Organization (NFO). Before going farming, I spent 4 years in the United States Air Force where I saved up enough money to get my down payment to go farming. I also enjoy writing and reading biographies and I write about myself as well as articles and excerpts I find interesting. I'm specifically interested in finances, particularly in the banking industry because if it wasn't for help from my local Community Bank, I never could have started farming which I was successful at. So, I'm real interested in the Small Business Administration and I know they are the ones creating jobs. I have been a member of Common Cause and am now a member of Public Citizen as well as AARP. I have, in the past, written over 150 articles on the Obama Blog ( and I'd like to tie these two sites together. I'm also on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook and find these outlets terrifically interesting particularly what many of these people did concerning the uprising in the Arab world. I believe this is a smaller world than we think it is and my goal is to try to bring people together to live in peace because management needs labor like labor needs management. Up to now, that hasn't been so easy to find.
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