Phil Ruffin: Casino Mogul and Businessman
Phil Ruffin is a shrewd businessman and billionaire from Wichita, KS. He leads a fairly private life as far as casino moguls go, tending to stay out of the public eye when he's not brokering multi-million dollar casino purchases and haggling with city officials over installing slots at the local greyhound track.
Starting from a personal fortune of 28 cents in 1950, Phil Ruffin has amassed a net worth of nearly $2.5 billion. He has dabbled in a variety of business interests, but he's best known for his successes in Las Vegas. He owns Treasure Island in Las Vegas and is half-partner with Donald Trump in the Trump International Tower.
The Early Years
Phil Ruffin got his start in business after dropping out of college in Wichita, KS. His life in business dates back to the 1950s, when he managed to scrounge together enough money to buy a gas station. He parlayed that into another gas station and then another. He would eventually accumulate a collection of more than 60 convenience stores and gas stations.
Interestingly, it was Phil Ruffin who envisioned the concept of self-service gas stations in the United States. It was required by law in those days that all gas in the United States be pumped by an attendant. Phil haggled back and forth with Kansas lawmakers in an attempt to implement his vision. In 1972, Kansas became the first state to legalize self-service gas stations.
Phil's next move was to build his first hotel in Wichita. He would go on to purchase several more hotels, get into the oil distribution business, and later purchase Harper Trucks: which is the world's largest manufacturer of hand trucks.
The Gambling Business
Phil Ruffin did well for himself in those early years, but that was nothing compared to the success he would see upon entering the gambling business. Phil's first move in that area was to purchase the Crystal Palace resort and casino in the Bahamas in 1995.
He got the money for the purchase by leasing his gas stations in total for 20 years at $2.2 million a year. He then borrowed $20 million against that lease and put it up to buy Crystal Palace, which was worth $80 million at the time. $60 million of that purchase price was comprised of outstanding debts. Despite the debt that came with the property, the investment paid off in a big way.
Later, Phil mortgaged that property to get an additional $50 million so that he could make one of his most famous purchases: The New Frontier Casino in Vegas. Phil also agreed to pay an additional $110 million over the next five years. It was a big purchase for Phil at the time, but he had a plan.
At the time, the owners of the New Frontier were locked in a nasty battle with Culinary Union. The union was demanding higher wages and the then-owners were not having it. Both sides could not come to an agreement. The dispute was nasty, sometimes violent, and very public.
Phil stepped in, bought the property and quickly made a deal with the Culinary Union. He agreed to the higher wages and promptly ended the dispute. He took ownership of the property in 1998. In 2005, he sold Crystal Palace in the Bahamas for nearly $150 million.
Flush with cash, Phil was tempted to take a billion dollar loan from any of the numerous banks that were willing to do business with Ruffin. The idea was to demolish the New Frontier and replace it with a new mega resort, but he was wary to take on that much debt. So instead, he held onto the property and bid his time.
Phil entered billionaire status in 2007 when he closed a $1.2 billion deal with El Ad Properties for the purchase of the New Frontier. The deal set a Las Vegas record at $33 million per acre. Phil was now officially one of the richest men in the world.
His next and biggest purchase was the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in 2009. Phil purchased it from MGM Mirage for a grand total of $775 million. At the time, MGM was having financial troubles and was happy to get a decent price for the property. It's very likely that Phil saved hundreds of jobs with this purchase. The very next year, Treasure Island alone earned more than $375 million.
Phil is long-time friends with Donald Trump and has a half-ownership stake in the Trump International Tower in Chicago. He also owns the now-defunct Wichita Greyhound Park which includes property throughout the Midwest and about a dozen hotels.
Phil was forced to close the Wichita Greyhound Park in 2007 after his efforts to install slot machines failed. With the track unable to support itself on racing alone, Phil attempted to get a bill passed that would allow slot machines on the property. Voters rejected the bill in 2007, but Phil has talked about giving it one more push. If successful, Phil would invest anywhere from $50 million to $100 million to renovate the property and hire employees.
Phil maintains a low profile in the public eye, but we do know that he married 2004 Miss Ukraine winner Oleksandra Nikolayenko in 2008. Donald Trump was the best man at the wedding.
Phil is also a poker player, although his level of interest is unknown. He appeared on GSN's High Stakes Poker in 2011. In all likelihood, Phil's interest in poker probably isn't all that encompassing. It would be hard to find a game anywhere in the world that could raise the heart rate of this billionaire.
He has homes in Wichita, California, Florida, and New York City; he travels between locations on a private jet. He is the father of four children.
Author: Wesley Burns
Updated: March 2015