How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions

.. In fact, in Atlantic City, Trump ran his businesses into the ground, and the only real business savvy he showed was in finding ways to line his own pockets at the expense of his shareholders and creditors.

.. Between 1997 and 2002, revenue at non-Trump casinos rose by eighteen per cent, while revenue at Trump’s casinos actually fell.

.. And Trump Hotels used a big chunk of that money not to fund new investments for the company or to pay for operations but rather to pay off debts that Trump had personally guaranteed, and debts owed by a company that Trump controlled.

.. Trump also collected a total of forty-four million dollars in compensation from Trump Hotels, despite the fact that it lost a billion dollars while he was chairman.

.. And, in fact, Trump was sued by shareholders over the Trump Castle deal: the case was eventually settled.

.. Trump’s real business knack is not for building or running companies—it’s for finding ways to play the angles and milk the system for all it’s worth. In the end, Trump is not an entrepreneur. He’s not a builder. He’s a grifter.

He repeatedly emphasized that what really mattered about his time in Atlantic City was that he had made a lot of money there.

.. Mr. Trump assembled his casino empire by borrowing money at such high interest rates — after telling regulators he would not — that the businesses had almost no chance to succeed.

.. After narrowly escaping financial ruin in the early 1990s by delaying payments on his debts, Mr. Trump avoided a second potential crisis by taking his casinos public and shifting the risk to stockholders.

.. And he never was able to draw in enough gamblers to support all of the borrowing. During a decade when other casinos here thrived, Mr. Trump’s lagged, posting huge losses year after year. Stock and bondholders lost more than $1.5 billion.

.. the $1 billion Trump Taj Mahal.

.. That casino opened in 1985 and competed directly against his partner’s first casino, Harrah’s Marina.

.. Mr. Trump told the commission in 1988 that he could rein in expenses, because conventional lenders were lining up to give him money at low interest rates. He said he abhorred junk bonds, which were then popular, because they carried a bigger risk of default and thus came with higher interest rates.

Within months, he reversed course, issuing $675 million worth of junk bonds, with a 14 percent interest rate, to finish construction and get the Taj open.

.. Mr. Trump has said that with each financing he routinely took money out of the casinos to invest in Manhattan real estate. Total debt on the Taj exceeded $820 million.

.. Marvin B. Roffman, a casino analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott, an investment firm based in Philadelphia, told The Wall Street Journal that the Taj would need to reap $1.3 million a day just to make its interest payments, a sum no casino had ever achieved.

“The market just isn’t there,” Mr. Roffman told The Journal.

Mr. Trump retaliated, demanding that Janney Montgomery Scott fire Mr. Roffman. It did.

.. Just over a year after it opened, the Taj Mahal was in bankruptcy court, followed in 1992 by both the Plaza and the Castle.

.. It took three years to recover any money owed for his work on the casino, she said, and her father received only 30 cents on the dollar.

.. “My father knew, like I knew, you don’t personally guarantee,”

.. More than half of the new money went to pay off Mr. Trump’s unrelated personal loans.

.. A week after the initial public offering, the new company began using some of the almost $300 million it had raised to clear Mr. Trump’s personal debts.

.. In 1996, the public company issued more stock and sold $1.1 billion in junk bonds. The money was used in part to pay off $330 million in bonds on the Plaza that had been guaranteed by a company Mr. Trump controlled, as well as almost $30 million that Mr. Trump personally owed to two banks.

.. Revenues at other Atlantic City casinos rose 18 percent from 1997 through 2002; Mr. Trump’s fell by 1 percent.

.. Had Mr. Trump’s revenues grown at the rate of other Atlantic City casinos, his company could have made its interest payments and possibly registered a profit. But with sagging revenues and high costs, his casinos had too little money for renovations and improvements, which are vital for hotels to attract guests. The public company never logged a profitable year.

.. Mr. Trump was already asking his bondholders to accept less money, in preparation for a third casino bankruptcy. Yet, at the same time, he managed to pull more money out of the company for himself, The Times found.

.. It’s the equivalent of giving big bonuses to your executives right before you file for bankruptcy.”

.. “The Trump name does not connote high-quality amenities and first-class service in the casino industry,” lawyers for the investment bank said. “Rather,” the Trump name is associated with “the failure to pay one’s debts, a company that has lost money every year, and properties in need of significant deferred maintenance and lagging behind their competitors.” (The dispute was later settled.)

.. Under Mr. Trump, the company had a long history of making rosy revenue projections and never meeting them, Mr. Icahn’s lawyer argued.

.. Trump Marina was soon sold for $38 million, less than 10 percent of what the company paid Mr. Trump for it in 1996.

.. “They were so in love with him that they came back a second, third and fourth time,” Mr. Hanlon said. “They let him strip out assets. It was awful to watch. It was astonishing. I have to give Trump credit for using his celebrity time and time again.”

.. “People underestimated Donald Trump’s ability to pillage the company,” said Sebastian Pignatello, a private investor who at one time held stock in the Trump casinos worth more than $500,000. “He drove these companies into bankruptcy by his mismanagement, the debt and his pillaging.”