Illustration via Jason Torchinsky

Sweepstakes! Gotta love ‘em. Sure, in signing up for a contest, you’re giving the green light to receive reams of junk mail in the future, but so what! Prizes are cool and fun! And in 1990, as Donald Trump opened one of his later-bankrupted Atlantic City casinos, customers had a chance to enter the “Raja’s Riches” contest. The prize? A 1990 Rolls Royce Silver Spur. Nice! Maybe.

First, a little backstory: within months of opening the Trump Taj Mahal casino that year, it immediately ran into financial issues. But throughout the summer of 1990, the casino had planned three separate drawings for a chance to win the $155,000 car.

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According to reports, customers filled out an entry card for “Raja’s Riches,” then dumped it into a bucket next to one of the three Rolls Royces being given away. Those buckets were then emptied into a larger drum to pick a winning card.

A report from UPI at the time said the hotel gave away cars in June and July of that year, with a third scheduled for September.

But before the final drawing arrived, there was a hiccup of sorts: Someone had concocted a couple bogus letters announcing the prize of a Rolls Royce and reportedly sent them to several hundred people who entered the contest, claiming they had won the Rolls.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This set off a PR firestorm for the casino, which was quickly inundated with calls from pissed off customers who just wanted to pick up their vehicle. The complaints sparked a probe from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, all of which is lodged in the Taj Mahal’s bankruptcy filing (available at BuzzFeed).

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One of the hoax letters had a pretty cut-and-dry hint that it was phony. See if you can spot it:

Poor Gloria. Though I guess it’s plausible that Trump has a legendary speech stored somewhere about the Whorehouse of Emotion, but who knows.

In August 1990, a spokesperson told UPI that the letters conveyed to some customers that they had won ownership of the entire Taj resort; others, a weekend on the Trump Princess Yacht.

“Those letters are unauthorized and counterfeit and are the results of a senseless prank,” the spokesperson said. “Although the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort has had nothing to do with this obvious fraud, we apologize for any inconvenience.”

Raymond and Frances Jones didn’t accept the apology.

The couple received the same hoax letter as Gloria Roper, and despite the fact it was fake, they didn’t seem to care. Between 1991-1992, they repeatedly sent letters to the Taj and the state casino commission, demanding to get to the bottom of what transpired.

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In February 1991, Abbie Luckey, the direct marketing supervisor for the Taj, wrote to the couple to say, despite their protests, “there will be no compensation offered in response to this illegal prank letters which were allegedly sent on behalf of the Trump Taj Motel.”

The letter didn’t sit well with Raymond Jones. The following month, in response to Luckey (who probably hated her last name at the time), he explained the Rolls was “paramount” to them and it “should be at the forefront in your mind because we find ourselves alleged common victims of a vicious prank ...”

The way their outrage is conveyed, you almost have to feel bad for them. It’s as if the Joneses thought they alone drove business (what little there apparently was) to the Taj.

In my disappointment and difficult to receive my prize, my wife and I can’t remember or count the days we drove up Atlantic City to admire the car on exhibit and with much excitement joined the crowds of people vying for the silver grey car, signing slips from the pads, and dropping them into the large drum on display, and then moving on to gambling. The car or the large drum on display was not a figment of my imagination. Friends of ours, at our encouragement, came from Florida, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland and other states to the Trump Taj Mahal when we told them of the “Raja Riches” Sweepstakes. The Sweepstakes were a draw card for many of my friends. Multiply my sixty or so friends by the thousands that walk thru those casino doors daily to gamble, and you can total a lot of casino business generated by the “Raja Riches” sweepstakes. Your claim that the prize of the car is a hoax is ludicrous!! , absurd!!, false!! and a case of group schizophrenia suffered by your organization. !!!

After filing a complaint with the state casino commission, the bankruptcy file indicates the couple’s effort actually ended with the Taj receiving a violation over the incident.

The casino commission was about as polite as it could be with the Joneses.

“It is acknowledged that the bogus sweepstakes letter you received was anything but amusing,” a June 1991 letter to them reads.

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It goes on, “You are further advised that the Taj Mahal has been cited for a violation in connection with this incident. Additionally, the [Division of Gaming Enforcement] has conducted an audit of the accounting procedures used for the ‘Raja’s Riches Sweepstakes.’ The Division’s audit disclosed that the Taj Mahal committed violations of its internal control procedures and, consequently, also violated [state law].”

 

The Taj implemented “appropriate measures to ensure this unfortunate incident” doesn’t happen again, the commission told Jones.

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Still, the couple didn’t relent. In bankruptcy court, the Joneses filed a claim, stating they were a debtor of the Taj and entitled to the Rolls. In the filing, Raymond Jones wrote:

I AM WINNER OF THE RAJA’S RICHES GRAND OPENING SWEEPSTAKES, THE PRIZE IS A 1990 SILVER SPUR ROLLS ROYCE

And here’s why he told the court his claim should have priority:

So, Trump’s lawyers were forced to respond as to why the next U.S. president never delivered a speech on the “Whorehouse of Emotion” and why Jones shouldn’t receive a Rolls. Really.

“Obviously,” the lawyers wrote, “no such speech was ever given by Mr. Trump.”

Apparently Gloria Roper filed a similar claim, and the judge expunged it from the docket. So, the lawyers reasoned, the same should be done for Jones and his wife.

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As far as I can tell from a light reading of the filings BuzzFeed posted, the Joneses didn’t get their car. And I couldn’t find any old news clippings to indicate the culprit of the hoax was ever caught. To date, it seems unclear who did this, or why.

If you know anything more, or if you won a Rolls in this contest, drop me a line at ryan.felton@jalopnik.com.

Correction: A previous version of this post misspelled Abbie Luckey’s name as “Lucky,” despite having a copy of the letter right in front of me. I regret this to no end.