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Clash of the Titans

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A few things Donald Trump and Steve Wynn have in common:
Military school -- Trump, five years at New York Military Academy, at Cornwall-on-Hudson; Wynn, five years at Manlius Military Academy, near Syracuse.
Wharton School of Business -- Trump, class of 1968; Wynn took courses there as a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate, class of 1963.
Alleged work done by cosmetic-surgeon-to-the-stars Steven Hoefflin -- Trump, scalp-tightening; Wynn, face-lift.
Unlikely “close friends” -- Trump, Monica Seles, Puff Daddy; Wynn, Ron (Pocket Fisherman) Popiel, Julius Erving. Both: Michael Jackson.
Number of marriages -- Two apiece. Trump, to Ivana and Marla; Wynn, to Elaine -- twice.

Donald Trump calls for silence from his dinner guests at the Scheherazade, the most expensive restaurant inside Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino. At the head of a 50-foot-long table drowning in crystal, silver, and gilt, Trump beckons a nearby diner. The man grins awkwardly as Trump gets up and slings a fleshy arm around his slight shoulders. “This is the richest man in Argentina!” Trump shouts. “The richest! He flies up four times a year, gambles $6 million! And where does he gamble? Right here! The Taj Mahal! The richest man in Argentina!”
The man’s expression falls. “Actually, Donald,” he says quietly, “it’s Venezuela.”

Trump isn’t rattled. “Argentina! Venezuela! Whatever! It’s all the same! The point is, the richest man in Venezuela, he gambles with us!” Trump’s enthusiasm is so childlike and overwhelming, even the richest man from wherever dissolves in laughter.

It’s fight night at the Taj Mahal. Tubby old muffler salesman George Foreman is pitted against dreadlocked but punchless young heavyweight Shannon Briggs on this Saturday in early December. But the most entertaining show in town, as always, is Trump.

He’s flown in a fifteen-person entourage from New York by private jet. The group struggles to keep pace. When Trump pivots abruptly and dashes from the blackjack section to the poker tables, there’s a bejeweled pileup. Trump’s date, busty faded model Kara Young, crashes into the wife of Trump’s lawyer, who smacks into the chest of NBC talking head Stone Phillips, who collides with fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier.

But Trump is already gone, into the high-stakes Pai Gow Poker room, where the minimum wager is $2,000. “It looks like Vietnam in here!” Trump cackles, glancing at the crowd of Asian gamblers. “People who don’t come down here don’t understand this -- Atlantic City is hot! It’s the hottest! Atlantic City is the most underrated gaming jurisdiction in the entire world. It does more business than the Indian reservations -- by far! It does more business than the entire Las Vegas strip! Atlantic City is a fucking monster. It’s huge! It’s tremendous! And people don’t write about it!”

Then Trump shakes his head, narrows his eyes, and says, out of the blue, “I don’t believe Wynn is really going to come in here.”

By here, Trump means Atlantic City. Enveloped as he is by the Taj Mahal carnival, Trump has Wynn on the brain. Later, back in his twenty-sixth-floor office atop Trump Tower, Trump snaps whenever his opponent’s name is mentioned.

“In Las Vegas, he’s building a very ugly new facility for $2 billion,” Trump says, trying to sound dryly analytical as his face turns crimson. “It’s one of the ugliest masses I’ve seen -- and that’s my business. I’m hearing the construction expense numbers could be double what they anticipated. They’re way over budget in Biloxi where Wynn is building another new casino, by hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a real problem for them. To be honest, I don’t know if they’re coming to Atlantic City or not, because they have such problems with their construction costs. Perhaps they’ll have to refocus on constructing buildings rather than trying to steal land in Atlantic City.”

Nearly two years ago, Governor Christine Todd Whitman promised that New Jersey would spend $220 million building a tunnel and highway to Wynn’s marina-casino compound; Wynn is supposed to pitch in an additional $110 million. Without the new road, Wynn won’t come, because it’s quicker to drive straight ahead to the competing Boardwalk casinos. The state expects to mine political gold: 20,000 new jobs and “untold millions to the local economy and tax base,” says a wide-eyed state spokesman.


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