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CEO: Hard Rock still wants casino near NYC after Taj Mahal

WAYNE PARRY
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This April 24, 2015, photo shows the exterior of the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J. On Wednesday, March 1, 2017, owner Carl Icahn reached a deal to sell the casino, which shut down on Oct. 10, 2016, to Hard Rock International and two New Jersey investors. The sale price was not divulged. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The company that bought Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal casino still wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey just outside New York City.

Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen told The Associated Press on Thursday that his company remains committed to its plan to build a casino at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford if voters change the law to allow it.

Hard Rock bought the Taj Mahal, which now-President Donald Trump opened in 1990, from billionaire Carl Icahn on Wednesday for an unspecified price.

"We own 25 percent of the Meadowlands (track) and we are 100 percent still on board to do that project at the Meadowlands," Allen said.

The company has partnered with track owner Jeff Gural to propose a casino resort just outside New York City that analysts predict could become one of the most successful casinos in the nation — at least until New York City allows one or more casinos to open nearby.

But before that happens, New Jersey voters would have to change a law that currently restricts casinos to Atlantic City. A statewide referendum on it last November was rejected by more than 80 percent of voters, and it cannot be reconsidered for at least two years.

Gural said Hard Rock's purchase of the Taj Mahal could boost the duo's chances for a Meadowlands casino.

"I think it can only help us down the road at the Meadowlands because I am sure the politicians and local leaders are appreciative that Hard Rock stepped up to buy (the Taj Mahal) and reopen it as opposed to leaving closed or tearing it down," Gural said Thursday.

When it reopens in the spring of 2018, the casino's Indian theme with its domes and spires will be gone, replaced by Hard Rock's signature music theme. The company says it has the world's largest collection of music memorabilia, which is on display at Hard Rock cafes and casinos around the world.

About 3,000 workers will be hired, including many who lost their jobs when Icahn closed the casino in October amid a crippling strike by Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union.

"Our members sacrificed much at this property, but we never wavered in our core belief that workers deserve a good quality job, not simply any job," said union president Bob McDevitt.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took credit for at least part of the Taj Mahal sale, saying the state's takeover of Atlantic City's finances, assets and major decision-making power is paying dividends.

"There is no doubt that this purchase was encouraged by our efforts to stabilize the finances of the city government," the Republican governor and former presidential candidate said.

Allen said a stabilizing climate in Atlantic City helped convince Hard Rock to buy the casino, but cited numerous other factors as well.

"I think the toughest times in Atlantic City are over, including in terms of bad publicity," he said.

But he also said the Taj Mahal is one of only two existing Atlantic City casinos the company ever considered buying. It made an unsuccessful bid for Revel in bankruptcy court.

"The bones of the Taj Mahal are as good as anything in town, and it's something we felt we could do something spectacular with, from the height of the ceilings to the way the casino floor is laid out," Allen said.

He also said the company envisions lucrative cross-marketing possibilities not only with a future Meadowlands casino within New Jersey, but with Hard Rock casinos and non-gambling properties around the world. ___

Follow Wayne Parry at https://twitter.com/WayneParryAC