Phil Ruffin is a celebrated entrepreneur who has been a key player in several different industries over the years. By far, his most profitable business endeavors involve the purchase of brick and mortar casinos in both the Bahamas and Las Vegas.
Phil Ruffin’s willingness to take risks and act on his customers’ complaints has led to those businesses becoming huge successes. They were so successful, in fact, that Phil Ruffin is now worth more than $3 billion.
If you’d like to know more about Phil Ruffin and his impact on the casino industry, I’ve compiled a background and some interesting facts about the casino mogul.
Phillip Gene Ruffin was born on March 14, 1935, in Potter County, Texas. Ruffin was the 5th child born to his family. This made him the middle child, 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 better financial opportunities. Shortly after Ruffin was born, his family moved to Wichita, Kansas, which is where he lived for most of his childhood.
He attended Wichita North High School from 1950-1953. He was a fair enough student in school, but it was his athletic abilities that he has been remembered for.
He was a wrestling champion that broke several of the school’s records, gaining himself a full scholarship to Washburn University. Ruffin was hesitant to attend Washburn at first.
He had originally wanted to go to an out-of-state school to get some understandable space from his parents. He just couldn’t turn down the free ride.
After failing to declare a major during his first year of college, Ruffin finally settled on a degree in business. He managed to complete his freshman and sophomore years with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
His junior year was quite challenging for him. His grades started to slip, causing him to feel increasingly overwhelmed. Once the wrestling season had ended that year, Ruffin decided to drop out of college and start his first business instead.
Ruffin was the first businessman to bring self-serve gas stations to Kansas. He had to overcome a lot of opposition from major oil companies, who were, to put it mildly, hesitant to allow him to do this. They archaically thought women wouldn’t be able to pump their own gas and men in suits wouldn’t care to.
Once he finally got the oil brands 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 additional gas stations across the Midwest.
With 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 10 other hotels in Kansas, with the revenue from those hotels making him millions.
In 1989, Wichita Greyhound Park opened its doors. This was the first greyhound track to open its doors in Kansas.
In 1990, it had drawn approximately 800,000 people. By 1996, its popularity had already started to decline, bringing in only half as many people that year. Hoping he could turn the business’s fortune around; Ruffin purchased the property the following year.
Ruffin upgraded some of the racetrack’s features but was still not seeing the kind of profits he anticipated. He sought permission from the authorities to allow slot machines to be added to the racetrack.
Ruffin believed adding slot machines would significantly increase the racetrack’s annual earnings. After his request was ultimately denied, Ruffin decided to close the racetrack for good and cut his losses.
Around the same time Ruffin got involved with the Wichita Greyhound Park, he started to direct his ambitions towards the casino gambling industry. He purchased the Crystal Palace resort in the Bahamas for $80 million because he noticed that tourism there was peaking.
After taking over the casino and making some much-needed personnel changes, he started to make a sizable profit. When it finally came time to sell the casino, he was able to walk away from the deal with $147 million for his efforts.
Just two years later, he made his first appearance on the Las Vegas casino scene. He bought the New Frontier Hotel and Casino, even though it was 57 years old at the time and completely dilapidated.
Ruffin’s first task was was resolving issues with the Culinary Workers Union who had been picketing outside the casino on and off for 7 years. After a brief 2-hour conversation and some compromises, Ruffin was able to get the strikers to leave the casino’s premises for good.
Once that was cleared up, Ruffin began making renovations. He updated the kitchens in all the suites and added a fresh layer of paint to every square inch of the resort.
He brought in new slot machines for the casino. He started paying for a variety of recognizable entertainers to come in and perform for his guests on a regular basis.
Only a year later, 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 hard work and renovations, the property became the highest priced per-acre purchase in the Strip’s history.
Phil Ruffin set his aim on was the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino. 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 high-level entertainment.
One of the most amazing sights on the strip are staged pirate battles that take place every night on the pond in front of the casino. People travel from all over the world to see it.
Treasure Island 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 be so successful in the casino industry because he truly cares about what his customers are seeking.
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 somewhat militant when it comes to how he handles issues with his employees. Anytime a guest files a complaint about an employee, Ruffin will sit them down and read the complaint to them word for word.
Once he’s given 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.
Ruffin and President 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.
While that deal never worked out, Ruffin did end up purchasing a half-ownership stake in the Trump International Tower in Chicago.
He trusts Trump and has had a seemingly 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.
Ruffin was a huge supporter of Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. The two continue to get together on a regular basis and recently had lunch at the White House just to catch up.
Ruffin has been married 3 times. 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. So much so Ruffin 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 and Malena.
Ruffin is very fond of his new family and 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.
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.
I am thankful for his willingness to make improvements to the casinos he purchases. I look forward to seeing what his next project will be.
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