Donald Trump is a household name in the United States and the world over. He is best known for his aggressive business tactics, controversial comments and vast fortunes. In fact, Forbes reports that Trump’s net worth in 2015 is estimated at $4 billion. While a lot of his wealth has come from hustling real estate deals, in the past he’s had a huge stake in the gambling industry, including the world of online gaming.
Trump arrived onto the booming casino scene in 1982 when he received his gaming license in New Jersey from the Casino Control Commission. All throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, he snapped up a number of casino deals in Atlantic City, almost all of which were eventually sold or declared bankrupt. His first casino opened in 1984 under the name Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. At one point he also had ownership stakes in Trump Taj Majal, Trump Marina, Trump World’s Fair and Trump Casino (located in Gary, Indiana).
In 1995, Trump established Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts (THCR), to which he granted ownership of Trump Plaza. Over the course of the next two decades, THCR would declare bankruptcy a whopping four times in 1991, 2004, 2009 and 2014. THCR changed its name to Trump Entertainments Resorts (TER) after the 2004 bankruptcy. Additionally, Donald himself was chairman of the board until that same time, but he resigned as chairman of TER over a squabble with bondholders. He still owns a small stake in the company to grant it the right to use Trump’s name.
Last year, Trump sued TER to remove his name from the floundering casinos Trump Plaza and Trump Taj Mahal, saying that he “created the value that exists in my name” and didn’t want his reputation tarnished by the casino’s failures. He also told news sources that he’s “been away from Atlantic City for many years. People think we operate [TER] but we don’t. It’s not us. It’s not me.” Trump Taj Mahal was saved in part by billionaire Carl Icahn, and remains open today. But Trump Plaza shut its doors on September 16, 2014.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few months, you already know that Trump is the Republican front-runner for the 2016 presidential race. Even though he’s been quiet on the issue of online gaming since declaring his presidential bid, he was actually one of the first to invest in the industry in Atlantic City. In 2011 Trump was quoted as saying “(internet gaming) has to happen because many other countries are doing it and like usual, the U.S. is just missing out.”
At that time, he and TER were working out a deal for an online gaming venture with New York hedge-fund manager Marc Larsy, whose net worth is approximately $1.7 billion. They were ramping up negotiations in anticipation of the passage of New Jersey laws that would legalize online gaming in the state. They formed a company called Poker Ventures LLC and obtained a vendor license, but nothing ever materialized and the company never entered the online gaming market.
While this was Donald Trump’s only personal attempt so far to capitalize on the online gaming market, TER went on to partner with Ultimate Gaming in 2013 to create the nation’s first real-money online poker site. According to Ultimate Gaming CEO Tobin Prior, the idea was to operate the site in conjunction with Trump Taj Mahal to utilize the power of the Trump brand and ultimately drive more business to the gaming website. They also planned to pool rewards points between the two casinos, allowing customers who earn points at the Taj Mahal to redeem them online at the Ultimate Gaming site, and vice versa.
Despite the industry buzz and high hopes for the site, it closed permanently after only 19 months in business, citing cash flow problems and less-than-expected revenue figures. Around that same time, Ultimate Gaming accused Trump Taj Mahal for breaching contracts. They claimed that Trump Taj Mahal hadn’t made payments to them for 2 months and owed them a hefty sum of $1.5 million. Needless to say, a lot of money was lost and a lot of enemies were made.
In another deal that occurred around the same time, Trump Plaza partnered with Betfair, an online casino site based in the U.K. But Trump Plaza has since closed, and Betfair was not allowed to continue operations in New Jersey without an agreement with a land-based casino.
It’s obvious that Donald Trump is a big supporter of online gaming. He has a history with the industry and has clearly voiced his opinions on it in the past. But so far in the 2016 presidential race, he has remained quiet on the topic. Online gaming was not even mentioned in the first round of republican presidential debates.
The reason for this silence could be that Trump does not want to be associated with his failings in the internet gaming market. But that could all change if someone – anyone – breaks the ice on the issue. Trump can pull out the big guns at any time and score a big win for the online gaming community. One powerful argument he could make would be accusing iGaming opponents of being hypocrites for championing states’ rights while simultaneously denying their right to operate state-regulated internet gaming.
Donald Trump is an interesting character, to say the least. The consensus seems to be that people either love him or hate him. But if you love having access to online gaming, one thing is for sure – Trump may not be very vocal on the subject right now, but if lured into the internet gaming debate, he could make a fierce case for it.