ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Real estate mogul Donald Trump received another last-minute reprieve from the Atlantic City Casino Control Commission Thursday, allowing him to continue operating his financially troubled Taj Mahal Hotel on the Boardwalk.
But the smart money has it that Trump's days as a fight promoter competing with the owners of big Las Vegas hotels ended with last night's Evander Holyfield-George Foreman heavyweight championship match at Convention Hall.
Trump had put Atlantic City on the boxing map with a number of multimillion-dollar matches in the past four years, including Mike Tyson's brief encounters with Michael Spinks and Carl Williams and Foreman's knockout of Gerry Cooney.
But when he overextended himself in the casino-hotel business, Trump became a casualty of the recession. To keep the Holyfield-Foreman fight, he had to obtain concessions from promoters Dan Duva and Bob Arum, who agreed to reduce his site fee to $6 million from $11 million.
With ticket sales for the Convention Center already exceeding $6 million, Trump was guaranteed a profit on his investment. It also is estimated that Trump will take home an additional $2.7 million from his gambling tables this weekend at his three casinos, the Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza and Trump Castle.
Arum and Duva were willing to make the $5 million concession in an effort to continue to auction their major fights between Atlantic City and Las Vegas.
Arum told the Atlantic City Press: "We did let Trump off the hook. We were aware of his financial problems."
Shelly Finkel, Holyfield's chief adviser, said, "We just didn't want to get into litigation over the money."
But Trump, to remain a major player in boxing promotions, probably would need strong financial support from fellow Atlantic City casino owners, who contributed heavily by purchasing more than $1 million in tickets to the Holyfield-Foreman fight for their high rollers.
"I think it's too soon to write the obituary for big-time fights in this city," said Steven Richer, head of the Atlantic City Convention Bureau. "I don't accept the premise only one guy is capable of bringing in these fights. I think there are people who will move into the vacuum."
Even Trump's chief rival, The Mirage in Vegas, owned by Steve Wynn, is not prepared to count him out.
"The situation with Trump is confused," said Alan Feldman, The Mirage's vice president of public relations. "But with Arum and Duva getting most of the profits from pay-per-view, Trump did not have to put up any advance money. Trump could still do fights."
Richard Rose, president of Caesars Sports World, which owns properties in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, thinks that will be a factor "as long as boxing remains an important part of the casino marketing plan."
But Caesars prefers bringing its big fights to Las Vegas, where it boasts its own 15,000-seat arena.
"You can't go after every fight," Rose said. "You just have to be satisfied with getting a good percentage of the ones you want."
Atlantic City politicians are keeping a stiff upper lip.
"I'm not pessimistic," said Mayor James Whelan. "These fights aren't Trump-driven, they're market-driven. He brings fights here because it's good business.
"How many major fights are there a year, maybe two? There are a lot of venues. George Foreman's last big fight was in Zaire. We won't get them all. But we'll get some."