Phil Ruffin: Casino Mogul and Businessman

Ruffin is an accomplished entrepreneur who has been involved in several
different businesses over the years. His most profitable business endeavors
involve the purchase of casinos in both the Bahamas and Las Vegas. His
willingness to take risks and act on his customers’ complaints has lead to those
businesses becoming huge successes.

They were so successful, in fact, that Phil Ruffin is currently worth more
than $2.8 billion. To learn more about Phil Ruffin and his impact on the casino
industry, please continue reading this extensive biography.

Early Years

Phillip Gene Ruffin was born on March 14, 1935, in Potter County, Texas.
Ruffin was the 5th child born to his family, having 2 older brothers and 2 older
sisters. His parents were immigrants from Lebanon who moved to the United States
in pursuit of religious freedom and financial prosperity. Shortly after Ruffin
was born, his family moved to Wichita, Kansas, which is where he spent the
majority of his childhood.

He attended Wichita North High School from 1950-1953. He got decent grades in
school, but it was his athletic abilities that he will be remembered for. He was
a wrestling champion that broke several of the school’s records, earning himself
a full-ride scholarship to Washburn University. Ruffin was hesitant to attend
Washburn at first because he had initially wanted to go to an out-of-state
school to get some much-needed space from his parents, but he just couldn’t turn
down free tuition.

After refusing to declare a major during his first two semesters of college,
Ruffin finally settled on a degree in business. He managed to end his freshmen
and sophomore years with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, but his junior year was quite
challenging for him. His grades started to slip, causing him to feel very
overwhelmed. Once the wrestling season had ended that year, Ruffin decided to
drop out of college and start his own business instead.

Ruffin was the first entrepreneur to bring self-serve gas stations to Kansas.
He had to overcome a lot of opposition from major oil companies, who were
hesitant to allow him to do this, as they thought women wouldn’t be able to pump
their own gas and men in suits wouldn’t want to. Once he finally got the oil
companies on board, he launched his first self-service gas station/convenient
store in Wichita, Kansas. After seeing how successful it was, he got permission
to open 60 more gas stations across the Midwest.

From the money he made through those gas stations, he was able to build his
first hotel: a Marriot in Wichita. Right from the start, Ruffin seemed to have a
knack for the hotel business. He worked hard to make accommodations for his
guests, and their satisfaction was always his number-one priority. The news of
his hotel services spread, causing his Marriot to constantly be booked solid.
Ruffin eventually opened up 10 other hotels in Kansas, with the revenue from
those hotels making him a multi-millionaire.

Wichita Greyhound Park

In 1989, Wichita Greyhound Park opened its doors, becoming the first
greyhound racetrack to make its way to Kansas. In 1990, it had attracted
approximately 800,000 people. By 1996, its popularity had already started to
decrease, bringing in only 400,000 people that year. Thinking he could turn the
business around, Ruffin purchased the property the following year.

Ruffin upgraded some of the racetrack’s features but was still not seeing the
kind of revenue he wanted. He sought permission from the government to allow
slot machines to be added to the racetrack, as he believed this would
significantly increase the racetrack’s yearly revenue. After his request had
been denied, Ruffin decided to close the racetrack for good.

The Casino Industry

Around the same time Ruffin got involved with the Wichita Greyhound Park, he
started to direct his attention towards the casino industry. He purchased the
Crystal Palace resort in the Bahamas for $80 million because he noticed that
tourism there was at an all-time high. After taking over the casino and making
some necessary changes to personnel, he started to make a decent profit. When it
finally came time to sell the casino, he was able to walk away from the deal
with $147 million to his name.

Two years later, he made his first Las Vegas casino purchase. He bought the
New Frontier Hotel and Casino, even though it was 57 years old at the time and
falling apart. The first challenge he had to overcome was resolving issues with
the Culinary Workers Union who had been picketing outside the casino on and off
for six-and-a-half years. After a two-and-a-half-hour discussion and some
compromises, Ruffin was able to get the strikers to leave the casino’s premises
for good.

Once that was settled, Ruffin began making renovations. He updated the
kitchens in all the suites and added a fresh layer of paint to every inch of the
resort. He brought in new slot machines for the casino and started paying for a
variety of entertainers to come in and perform for his guests on a regular
basis. After about a year, the once-vacant casino was flooded with guests. There
were even points where The New Frontier Hotel and Casino was so booked that they
had to start turning people away. In 2007, Ruffin sold the casino to El Ad
Properties for $1.2 billion. Thanks to his renovations, the property became the
most expensive per-acre purchase in the Strip’s history.

The next casino Phil Ruffin set his sights on was the Treasure Island Hotel
and Casino, which he purchased from the MGM Mirage for $775 million in 2009.
Treasure Island has 2,664 rooms and 220 suites. It is known for its
family-friendliness and dedication to entertainment. There are staged pirate
battles that take place every night on the pond in front of the casino, and
people travel from all over the world to see it. This resort was an excellent
investment for Ruffin, as it still brings in nearly $400 million in revenue each
year. It was this casino that took him from a multi-millionaire to a
multi-billionaire.

Ruffin has been able to do so well in the casino industry because he truly
cares about what his customers think. In an interview with Haute Living, Ruffin
explained, “I’m a strong believer in customer reviews. That’s why I’m here every
morning so early. Whatever the customers are saying, I listen. ‘Your pool closes
too early.’ OK, write that down. ‘We want bigger TVs.’ Noted.” Arriving at his
office at 5 am each morning, he personally reads every complaint that comes in
and makes changes when necessary.

Ruffin is also really strict when it comes to how he deals with his
employees. When a guest files a complaint about an employee, Ruffin will sit
them down and read the complaint to them verbatim. After giving them a chance to
explain themselves, Ruffin will let them know that this is their one and only
warning. If they don’t change their behavior, they will no longer be employed by
his company.

Phil Ruffin and Donald Trump

Ruffin and Trump first met when Ruffin traveled to Trump Towers to talk about
the possibility of adding a Trump-branded hotel to his Treasure Island casino on
the Las Vegas Strip in the early 2000s. Although that particular deal never
worked out, Ruffin did end up purchasing a half-ownership stake in the Trump
International Tower in Chicago, Illinois. He trusts Trump and has had a pleasant
experience being in business with him over the years.

Ruffin and Trump clicked from the moment they met, developing a strong
friendship. Trump was the best man in Ruffin’s most recent wedding, and Ruffin
was a huge supporter of Trump during his presidential campaign. The two continue
to get together on a regular basis and recently had lunch at the White House
just to catch up.

Personal Life

Ruffin has been married 3 times, with his first 2 marriages ending in
divorce. He has 3 children with his second wife: Phil Jr., Chris, and Michelle.
He maintains close relationships with each one of them and has put them in
charge of the various hotels he owns in Kansas.

On January 6, 2008, he married Oleksandra Nikolayenko, a supermodel from
Ukraine. They have 2 children together: Richard (born in 2010) and Malena (born
in 2013). Ruffin is very fond of his new family, having said this in an
interview, “I would recommend starting a second family to anybody-it’s really
worth it. You have to kind of relive everything.” Ruffin spends his free time
watching his son play baseball and joining in on his daughter’s tea parties.

Ruffin doesn’t gamble often, but when he does, his favorite game to play is
poker. He plays Texas hold’em with a few friends about once a month to hone his
skills. He is actually a decent poker player who even made an appearance on the
7th season of GSN’s High Stakes Poker. While on the show, he competed against
professional players like
Doyle Brunson
and Barry
Greenstein
.

Wrap Up

Phil Ruffin is a well-respected businessman who has made a fortune through
his dedication to the hotel and casino industry. His most significant purchase
was the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino, which he still owns and operates to
this day. We are thankful for his willingness to make improvements to the
casinos he purchases, and we look forward to seeing what his next project will
be.