On October 10, 2016, the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, closed its doors after 21 years in business and just hours after the second debate in the 2016 presidential race. The casino was the vision of Donald J. Trump that became a reality. At the time it opened, it was the largest casino in Atlantic City and rivaled the highlights of the Las Vegas Strip. Its closing closed another chapter in the sad history of Atlantic City, the coastal town that was once the gambling mecca of the east coast of the United States and home to many of the greatest boxing events during the 1980s. Today, the town is a remnant of its former self. Several well-known casinos closed years ago never to be replaced resulting in large sections of Atlantic City having no structures in place at all. The life that was once the backbone is now gone having been replaced by a feeling of dread and desertion. Only time will tell what will happen to the struggling city and it remains to be seen if the current president will do anything to help the place in which he earned and lost millions of dollars.
As a kid, I always looked forward to the times when my grandmother and mother would take my brother and I on a multi-day stay at Bally’s on the boardwalk. Only a little over two hours from New York City, Atlantic City was a top destination for many people in New York, northern New Jersey and other parts of the tri-state area. It also attracted millionaires, billionaires and scores of celebrities. To be honest, I never saw Donald Trump there and as a kid, he was the last thing going through my mind. But I did walk past the Taj Mahal and stand in awe of its size. To think that it is no longer a functional part of the famed boardwalk is both heartbreaking and a sad reality of the repercussions of financial mismanagement. And for the reader to understand how and why Atlantic City has been on the decline, it is necessary to revisit the actions of one of its greatest and worst entrepreneurs. John R. O’Donnell worked for the Trump Organization for three years before handing in his resignation. In 1991, this book was released to the public and re-released in 2016 as Trump began to focus his efforts to win the oval office.
From the cover of the book it is hard to get an idea of what the book is about. This is not a biography of Trump. O’Donnell does provide some biographical information but it is brief and in no way critical to the story being told. This book is strictly about the casinos in Atlantic City under Trump’s control and O’Donnell’s experiences while working there. There are those who will tempted to write off the book as an attempt to defame Trump’s character and cast judgment on his ability to lead the country. I disagree. O’Donnell never says he hates Trump but only reports what he saw , heard and observed while running Trump’s casinos. In fact, O’Donnell primarily worked at the Trump Plaza but also gets dragged into the debacle that became the Taj Mahal. He enjoyed his work but found himself not enjoying his environment and his decision to leave clearly reflects this. But even as he resigns he does not go out of his way to bury Trump in the book.
No one can deny that Donald Trump has had success in the financial industry. His name has been attached to some of the biggest projects we have seen in the last 30 years. But the truth about his involvement in those affairs and how much he really did do has always remained shrouded in mystery. O’Donnell lifts the veil on some of these things allowing the reader to see what the real Trump is like behind the scenes. And what we see is a businessman who is calculating, cunning, insensitive, unrealistic and ultimately supremely overconfident. At times he is his own worst enemy and his casino empire borders on collapse in only a few short years. His personal life is marked with scandals, infidelity, personal shortcomings and the deaths of several people close to him as acquaintances and business associates. Gossip seekers will not find any smoking guns here but O’Donnell does touch on the Marla Maples situation that helped caused one of the biggest divorces in history between Trump and his then wife Ivanka.
The book almost reads like a tragic play at times with the main character, the emperor, unable to see all that is around him although is eyes are wide open. O’Donnell is the voice of reason throughout the book but in the final analysis, he is resolved to make his exit stage left. Many years have passed since Trump dominated and manipulated Atlantic City. Today he holds the highest office in the nation. But the question remains, has he learned from his days as a casino mogul or will he continue to make the same mistakes and hold on to his beliefs about himself and others that contributed to his prior failings? Further, what will happen to the United States now that he is in office? Time will answer these questions and others that arise and for the voters and readers of this book, only they can decided what type of leader they believe he will be.