Phil Ruffin and Donald Trump Want to Build an Off-the-Strip Casino in Las Vegas
Treasure Island Las Vegas owner Phil Ruffin and President Donald Trump would like to build an Off-the-Strip casino in Las Vegas in the near future. Whether the Nevada Casino Control Commission would approve of the development is a matter of some question.
The 82-year old Phil Ruffin is one of the few people Donald Trump views as worthy of partnering on such a project. Trump has licensed his name to many other hotel developers around the globe, but Phil Ruffin is the only one he has partnered with in a literal sense.
Ruffin-Trump Partnership in Las Vegas
Phil Ruffin and Donald Trump already are 50/50 partners on the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, which is located near Treasure Island. The Trump International Hotel is one of the properties in the Trump Organization’s portfolio, which is managed by Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
Eric Trump recently discussed the partnership with Phil Ruffin. The president’s son said, “I couldn’t imagine a better partner. It was great to have two people at the level of stature that we had in that project: my father and Phil Ruffin. I think it gave tremendous credibility to the project, especially in the market where there were a lot of deals that, quite frankly, weren’t credible. I think that’s always a great thing. Who are you partners with? Phil Ruffin. Enough said.”
The questionable legal nature of the Trump Organization is a potential stumbling block for any development. Many expected Donald Trump to put the Trump Organization into a blind trust. He held a famous press conference where his lawyer showed a stack of legal binders, which presumably indicated the paperwork used to place the Trump Organization in a trust controlled by his sons. Later, it was revealed that President Trump can take control of the organization at any time.
AG Burnett on Licensing a Trust
A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Gaming Control Board, said that trusts make licensing more problematic. While he praised the efficiency and speed the GCB works with these days, Burnett said a trust could slow the process considerably.
Chairman Burnett explained the difficulties, saying, “It can become complex when it comes to trusts. It depends on how the trust holds the gaming license. But there’s probably no difference if the person is the trustee. A general rule is that we look to who holds control over the company, regardless of how they hold it.”
One potential sweetener in the favor of the Ruffin-Trump proposal is the ability of the president to make life better for all the casino and hotel owners in Las Vegas. Logically, that would be good for the City of Las Vegas, as well as the State of Nevada. One single project could do all of that.
Las Vegas-Los Angeles Railway
At the moment, a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is stalled. With a potential $1,000,000,000,000 infrastructure bill in the offing, Donald Trump could revive that railway project. Such a project would bring the mass market of Los Angeles to Las Vegas, because it would be a short, inexpensive, and comfortable train ride to Sin City. The nation’s second largest metropolitan area would be in the backyard of Las Vegas.
Phil Ruffin says talks to Donald Trump once a week or so, whenever it is important enough for the president. Ruffin said he brought up the project to Donald Trump in the time since the election. Ruffin noted all the jobs it would create, and suggested President Trump agreed it was a boon. Ruffin said, “He said it sounds like a good deal, especially if it employs 80,000 people, but he didn’t carry it any further.”
“A Lot of Hotel Rooms Here”
When it was pointed out that Donald Trump and Phil Ruffin would prosper personally from such a project, the Treasure Island owner noted that all casino owners would prosper. Ruffin said, “We would benefit some, but there are a lot of hotel rooms here. A lot of places they can go.”
While the conflict-of-interest concerns are great if Trump took a personal interest in the future economic prosperity of Las Vegas, the advantages to every business and political leader in Nevada are also great. In fact, casino companies with multiple properties in the area — such as Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, and MGM Resorts — stand to gain far more than Ruffin and Trump.
Conflict of Interest Concerns
Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer in the administration of George W. Bush, was asked about conflict of interest involving the president in such a case. Painter said, “If the secretary of transportation owned a casino in Las Vegas and they got involved in that project and decided whether that project should receive federal funding or not, I think the secretary of transportation would probably commit a criminal offense. That statute doesn’t technically apply to the president.”
Donald Trump might be thinking ahead. He would not be guilty of a conflict of interest, even if the secretary of transportation would be.
One might wonder who Trump’s secretary of transportation is. That would be Elaine L. Chao, who happens to be the wife of Senate Major Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell, along with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, is one of the key factors in the coming infrastructure spending bill.
Phil Ruffin on Russian Probe of Trump
While sitting for an interview with Tim Pannell of Forbes in the DJT restaurant, Phil Ruffin said the FBI and congressional investigations into Trump’s ties with Russia do not worry him a bit. Ruffin claims they are so much bunk.
Ruffin added, “This stuff about him having financial investments all over Russia — that’s just pure crap. I went to Russia with him. We took my airplane. We were having lunch with one of the oligarchs there. No business was discussed. Donald has no investment of any kind in Russia, nor has he borrowed any money from Russia. If he had a business deal there, he would have asked me to go join him.“