TRUMP'S TROUBLES His newest casino-hotel, the extravagant Trump Taj Mahal, is behind schedule. Even when the high rollers start spending, it could drain his other holdings of profits.
By Monci Jo Williams REPORTER ASSOCIATE Mark Alpert

(FORTUNE Magazine) – HAS DONALD TRUMP finally dealt himself a bad hand? He appears overextended on the Trump Taj Mahal, a new casino-hotel he is building in Atlantic City. In a recent interview with FORTUNE, he didn't sound like someone whose cards always turn up aces. At one point he said he might think about taking part of his empire public to raise cash -- unusual for a man who prefers to work without partners and says he has ''never liked the idea of going public.'' Trump bought the Taj, an unfinished behemoth, from Merv Griffin and Resorts International last year. He likes to say he got the best end of the deal. Resorts, which spent about $500 million on the casino before selling it to Trump for just $288 million, is now close to bankruptcy. But while Griffin and Resorts clearly got a bad deal on the Taj, it may turn out that Trump -- the / artful dealer whose career has been a high-profile version of Can You Top This? -- didn't do so well himself. For starters, Trump has twice delayed the Taj's opening -- from December 1989 to February and now to April 1990. One of the conditions of his financing required that the Taj be up and running by March 1. To avoid violating the agreement, the can-do developer -- he rebuilt New York City's Wollman skating rink in three months, something the city hadn't been able to do in six years -- requested and was granted an extension by Bankers Trust, the trustee for the bondholders. Opening late would be a blow only to Trump's pride, except that it could leave him tight for cash on the project. He financed the purchase and construction of the Taj by forming a partnership, with him as the sole limited partner, that issued $675 million in junk bonds. He must pay $94 million in interest on the Taj bonds each year, due semiannually in May and November. He has already made the 1989 interest payments. But according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he raised only enough to buy the Taj, complete construction, and make half the $47 million payment due next May. According to the documents, he had counted on the hotel and casino to produce enough cash for the other half. Since the Taj is not scheduled to open until April 1 -- and some say Trump will miss that deadline -- he could be cutting it close. Both Trump and his brother Robert, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, say there is enough money in the Taj till to make the full payment to bondholders next May. Says Donald: ''We have not even spent $250 million out of the $675 million we raised.'' Furthermore, the terms of the bond offering allow Trump to inject additional money into the Taj. Trump, who has already invested $75 million, could either borrow the cash or reach deeper into his own pockets. THE QUESTION IS, just how deep are those pockets? Trump has been spending like crazy for 18 months. He bought the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan for $400 million and spent around $20 million to refurbish it. He bought the Eastern Shuttle ($365 million) and just under 5% of AMR, parent of American Airlines ($200 million). In Atlantic City, besides the Taj (where the purchase price and additional cash investment come to $363 million), he has been buying hotels and parking lots with the zest of a kid playing Monopoly. FORTUNE estimates that these properties cost more than $100 million. Over the past three years he has also invested $90 million in Trump Castle, a casino off the boardwalk at Atlantic City's marina, adding hotel suites, a ballroom, and dredging the harbor to make room for the 282-foot Trump Princess yacht. That is quite a spending spree, even for Trump. But he denies being squeezed and says he used other people's money to finance his purchases: ''You know I don't take 10 cents out of my own bank to do a deal.'' (Trump does not count the $75 million he put into the Taj, most of which he says came from Griffin.) In response to questions from FORTUNE, he produced a letter from Arthur Andersen & Co. stating that he had $700 million in cash and marketable securities as of December 1988, a figure he says has not changed much in the last year. Adds Trump: ''I don't need a lot of cash.'' He gets his money from his two other Atlantic City casino-hotels ($88 million in operating income from Trump Plaza and Trump Castle during the first nine months of this year), from the luxury condos he sells at tony developments in Manhattan and West Palm Beach, from the rent he collects on commercial space in some of those buildings, and from other sources. BECAUSE the Trump Organization is private, no one except Trump and a few close associates know the true condition of his finances. Certainly no one ever accused him of understating his wealth. To the contrary, one transaction suggests that he may at times exaggerate his financial success. Trump has always contended he paid just $30 million for the St. Moritz Hotel he bought in 1985 from Harry Helmsley and other partners. Earlier this year he sold the St. Moritz to Australian businessman Alan Bond for $180 million. He made much of his $150 million profit, citing it to FORTUNE as evidence of his big cash hoard. But documents filed in connection with the transaction put the purchase price at $73.7 million for the hotel and the partnership interests associated with it. Asked about the discrepancy, Trump neither confirmed nor denied the $73.7 million figure, and said he made ''at least $100 million.'' That's a great profit -- but it's 33% less than $150 million. Whatever the state of Trump's finances, the Taj isn't likely to improve them soon. True, it will draw crowds to the boardwalk to gawk at its onion domes and minarets and to gamble at casinos spread across a floor as large as two football fields. But at that size, says Marvin Roffman, an analyst who follows the gaming industry for Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia, ''the Taj has to generate average revenues of $1 million per day just to break even.'' That is about 15% higher than Trump Plaza, the highest-grossing casino in Atlantic City. To make the profits Trump is counting on, the Taj must ring up average daily revenues of $1.3 million, 50% more than Trump Plaza. Says Jack Gallaway, president and general manager of TropWorld, a large casino owned by Ramada: ''The Taj will add 20% capacity to the Atlantic City gaming market, but we expect only a 7% increase in demand. Those numbers just do not add up.'' Trump hopes to fill the cavernous Taj by turning Atlantic City into the hottest convention destination east of Las Vegas. That is why he has been investing so heavily there. He plans to use the Taj as a ''host hotel'' for big regional meetings and to house the spillover in rooms at his other casino- hotels -- and, when necessary, at those of his competitors. The most profitable casino customer, however, is not the conventioneer but the high roller. With his yacht, his fancy condos, and the highly promoted boxing matches he stages in Atlantic City, Trump has attracted rich entrepreneurs and jet setters from Europe, Brazil, Japan, and even China to the Trump Plaza, up till now his showpiece. The danger, as TropWorld's Gallaway puts it, is that ''Trump's high rollers may simply abandon the Plaza for the Taj.'' If that happens, the Taj's profits could drain Trump's earnings elsewhere. Gaming industry sources speculate that he will sell either the Trump Plaza or the Castle if the Taj cuts into their business too much. As for the Taj, he is likely stuck with it. ''Who would buy it?'' asks Roffman of Janney Montgomery Scott. ''The Taj is a single-use facility. You can't exactly turn it into a K mart.'' TRUMP, WHO LIKES to buy properties and borrow against them a lot more than he likes to sell them, says he will not divest any of his casinos. He does concede that he is warming to the idea of selling stock in one of his operations, in part because it is increasingly expensive to raise money in the tumultuous junk bond market. Says Trump, perhaps once again putting the best face on things: ''I've never had partners, and I don't want them now. But I could make a lot of money just by offering a small piece of what I own. It's a great opportunity.'' Maybe he should call his next book Trump: Life Among the Shareholders.