ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey – Since the day a statue of Vladimir Ilich Lenin went up outside the trendy Red Square restaurant at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in 2005, Al Garrett has wanted it torn down.
He claimed having a 15-foot (4.5-meter) tall statue of one of history's most brutal dictators is an insult to thousands of soldiers who died fighting communism. He went on talk radio shows claiming the statue is anti-American.
He wrote letters to the editor claiming that a ruthless communist dictator has no place in a casino — a bastion of American capitalism, after all.
He wheels his walker around to shadow Tropicana officials at public events like Boardwalk parades, holding a sign urging the proletariat to rise up and demand that the statue be exiled to Siberia (or anywhere else out of sight).
And he got nowhere.
Now the 65-year-old retired chandelier maker is changing tactics, hurling the worst Atlantic City insult possible at the statue: It's bad luck.
And in a casino that lost its license last year amid a slew of problems, he's hoping his message will take hold.
"Ever since they put that statue up, they've had nothing but bad luck," said Garrett, who had seven brothers that served in the military, one of whom died in the Korean conflict.
"To them it's just a cartoon, but it's like putting a statue of a serial killer in front of your restaurant," he said.
The restaurant, where the masses plunk down their hard-earned rubles to sip vodka from a frozen ice bar and nibble on $275-an-ounce caviar, decided on Lenin as a recognizable symbol of Russian history.
"It's part of the culture of Russia: Lenin, communism, vodka," said Red Square general manager Joe Masauri. "It is what it is. You've got to have some type of symbol people associate with it. We didn't do it to bother or offend anybody."
Masauri noted that a year and a half after the statue went up, the Tropicana was sold for more than $2 billion.
"I'll take that kind of bad luck any day," he said.
Tropicana President Mark Giannantonio also said the statue isn't a bad luck charm.
"I think we've had a lot of good luck here," he said. "Our customer base has stabilized and we've added over 250 positions since the end of last year."
But Garrett ticks off a list of misfortunes that have befallen the Tropicana since the statue went up in The Quarter, the casino's ultra-hip shopping and dining area:
—The company's former owners, along with several other defendants, had to pay $101 million last year to settle a lawsuit stemming from the 2003 collapse of its parking deck that was under construction. The accident killed four workers and injured 36 others.
—Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex Corp. bought the casino in January 2007 and immediately began slashing the payroll, eliminating nearly 1,000 jobs. That led to problems with cleanliness and service that drove away customers, and led to the company being stripped of its casino license in December 2007.
—The property must be sold because of the license denial, but four months of soliciting bidders came up empty, and a state overseer wants to start the entire process over again.
—Tropicana Entertainment LLC, a Columbia Sussex corporate affiliate, filed for bankruptcy protection this year because of the license loss.
—Only a few days after Garrett began his unlucky Lenin campaign, a crane carrying two window washers cleaning the outside of the Tropicana tipped over, prompting a high-altitude rescue by firefighters.
—A casino trade publication had voted the Tropicana as Atlantic City's "luckiest casino" for five years in a row. But this year, the award went to a rival, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
—On Wednesday, a 10-foot(3-meter)-long lighting fixture broke loose from the top of the 28-story building, plummeting several hundred feet (meters) and crashing in the street. It narrowly missed a woman who had been walking underneath it.
Patrons seem undecided on whether the statue really brings bad luck.
Stu Goldman of Brooklyn, New York was only too happy to have something to blame his $900 loss on.
"I'll buy that," he said. "I keep giving and giving and giving."
But Sherman Frentzen of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania said the statue has nothing to do with his luck at the Tropicana.
"Just going into a casino is bad luck for me," he said.
Garrett plans to keep up his crusade to bring the statue down. He says he's gotten support from veterans, as well as the occasional passerby, but acknowledges that not everyone quite gets it.
"I've told people I'm protesting the statue of Lenin, and they ask what I have against The Beatles," he said.