Carrie Rengers

Phil Ruffin buys a second casino, this time in Florida

Billionaire Phil Ruffin shares his secrets to success

Phil Ruffin received a lifetime achievement award from the Certified Commercial Investment Member institute on Dec. 15, 2016, for his contribution to the face of the real estate business. (Video by Brian Hayes/Wichita Eagle correspondent)
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Phil Ruffin received a lifetime achievement award from the Certified Commercial Investment Member institute on Dec. 15, 2016, for his contribution to the face of the real estate business. (Video by Brian Hayes/Wichita Eagle correspondent)

Phil Ruffin has purchased another casino, this time in Florida.

“We’re going to bring Las Vegas to Miami,” says the owner of Treasure Island in Las Vegas.

He closed on his purchase of Casino Miami in Miami this week.

“It’s been impossible to enter that market,” Ruffin says.

“There will be no more casinos in Florida without a 60 percent approval rating from the public. It’s almost impossible to get,” he says. “Of the seven casinos that are left, the value of their license jumped substantially.”

Ruffin won’t disclose the purchase price.

“We heard about this asset being for sale. It had a lot of hair on it. . . . Lawsuits and all kinds of things.”

He says it wasn’t the kind of deal that could be financed.

“I didn’t need financing, so we made an offer and got it.”

The 200,000-square-foot complex is on 21 acres, “which is amazing,” Ruffin says. “We are five minutes from the Miami International Airport, which is one of the reasons we bought it.”

He says 45 million people a year pass through the airport, “And we’re right there.”

Ruffin says it’s the same in Las Vegas, but there are many more choices of casinos and other things to do there.

“In Miami, that’s not the case.”

Ruffin plans to build a hotel on the new property.

“That’s for sure.”

There are number of other possible plans “that we’ll have to talk about later.”

“We have big, big plans for the thing. It could be very good long term. . . . It’s very profitable.”

Ruffin says he’s open to buying other casinos, but it’s a difficult thing.

“The multiples are very, very high if you can find one.”

To build a new hotel and casino in Las Vegas, he says it would cost about $1.5 million a room.

That means that Treasure Island, which he snagged for a mere $775 million a decade ago, today would cost more like $4 billion.

“Las Vegas is going very strong,” Ruffin says.

What’s not going strong is his ability to get slots approved in Kansas so he can reopen his Wichita Greyhound Park.

“We keep getting shot down,” Ruffin says. “I don’t have the support in Kansas.”

He says, “We’ve done a lot for Kansas. We have big investments there. We employ a lot of people, but it doesn’t matter. Some people are just opposed to what we’re trying to do. You’ve got to remember you’re never a hero in your own backyard. There’s always people who oppose you for whatever reason.”

Ruffin says he won’t try for slots again for at least a while.

“We’ve tried every year, and we don’t seem to get anywhere,” he says. “They keep saying that there’s no support for it in Wichita, and we think there would be this time. We think we could win it this time if it would ever go back for a vote.”

Though he’d like to reopen the track, Ruffin says it’s not a huge deal to him.

“It’s like a blip, but it . . . would be nice to bring people back to work there.”

Ruffin is keeping an eye on what’s happening with Wichita’s new ballpark and development that’s going to happen around it, but for now he’s just holding his approximately five acres at Douglas and McLean.

“We’re not in any hurry because the land is just becoming more valuable,” he says.

“It used to be a brothel many, many years ago, and that’s why they built the bridge so guys could get to the brothel,” Ruffin says.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a brothel there, which is probably a very good business,” he says, laughing. “That’s one business we don’t want any part of, but maybe in 1870 we would have.”

Ruffin still spends time with his buddy President Trump. Ruffin was at the White House the night of the midterm elections, and he’ll spend New Year’s Eve at Mar-a-Lago along with other revelers. Ruffin has had a New Year’s tradition with Trump for 15 years.

And, of course, Ruffin is always thinking of the next deal.

“We’re always looking at some things,” he says. “It just depends on what comes along.”

On that note, he says, “Now I’ve got to go to work.”

Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for almost three decades, including 16 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.

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