Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Monday the state of Atlantic City's casino industry illustrates the "greed we're seeing all across the country."
Sanders took shots at presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Carl Icahn, the billionaire who owns the Trump Taj Mahal at the struggling seaside resort.
Sanders told the Boardwalk Hall crowd that he stands with workers, including those who have lost their jobs or benefits as Atlantic City's casino industry contracts. Four of the city's 12 casinos went out of business in 2014, putting 8,000 people out of work.
Trump once owned three casinos in Atlantic City, but he turned over control of them through bankruptcy proceedings. Trump has said on the campaign trail that he did great financially in Atlantic City and got out at the right time.
"Oh, I get it - you don't think he is a brilliant, successful businessman who can bring the kind of prosperity to America that he has brought here to Atlantic City," Sanders said of Trump.
The main casino workers' union has just started what is likely to be its toughest contract negotiations in four decades in Atlantic City. They are fighting to reverse the elimination of health care and pension benefits by the Taj Mahal casino, a move that occurred after Trump no longer owned it, and just before Icahn took over.
"We are going to tell the Carl Icahns of the world that that greed is not acceptable, that greed is destroying America, and you are looking at somebody who, if elected president, will take these people on," Sanders said.
Icahn responded Monday, saying that the Taj Mahal and Tropicana casinos would have closed and thousands more workers would have lost their jobs if he didn't provide tens of millions of dollars to save them.
"But, I do agree with Bernie Sanders on one thing: the income gap in this country is a major problem and I agree (with certain exceptions) that those that manage capital, as well as many CEOs, are ridiculously overpaid," Icahn said in a statement posted to his website. "If this problem is not addressed, there may well be disastrous consequences for the country."
The city's casino workers are largely low-paid, blue-collar workers. The union says its average salary is $11.17 an hour.
There also is a strong sense of resentment that many of the casinos, owned by out-of-state companies, routinely funnel profits back to the parent company instead of investing more of them into Atlantic City.
The Atlantic City region also leads the nation in home foreclosures.
Sanders trails front-runner Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. New Jersey voters head to the polls on June 7.
Associated Press writer Wayne Parry contributed to this report.