Ruffin talks about money — making it and losing it

LAS VEGAS — Greed and stupidity caused the recession, Phil Ruffin says — sharks on Wall Street, dumb people at regulatory agencies.

People assume that people at Goldman Sachs didn't know what they were doing, he said.

"But it was people on Wall Street who knew how to read the tea leaves, who set up a fixed game,'' he said.

"Even today I still don't understand how derivatives work. But the Wall Street people made billions in that game, selling, then betting against losses at the other end. They nearly devoured themselves. I should have gotten into that game."

He was joking.

Two days after he said this, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil fraud charges against Goldman Sachs and one of its executives.

There was a time, he said, after he sold the Frontier casino in 2007, that he had an extra $1.24 billion.

"I did not want to sit somewhere on a beach. So I tried to play the Wall Street game," he said.

"I didn't like it. I got out."

Not entirely. He said he's made $80.5 million with stock investments so far this year.

Once you have a few million, it's easier to make a few more, especially now, he said, as the market recovers.

The government "probably had to do the bailout" to stave off disaster, he said of President Obama's bailout plan. And it probably needed more regulation to head off greed again.

"Those guys who did all this will do the same if they have a chance — they will devour themselves," he said.

He doesn't usually advocate government intervention.

"I'm one of those who believe that Reagan got it right — the lower you keep taxes, the less regulation, the more business takes off, and the more revenue you generate," Ruffin said.

"There's all this talk about 'soak the rich,' and it comes with the mythology that the rich don't pay taxes.

"Well," he said, pointing to his framed check he wrote to the IRS for $172 million, "when people say the rich don't pay taxes, show them a photo of that check.

"They get you with the death tax, too. They take 40 percent when you're alive, and 55 with the death tax."

He grinned.

"I'm gonna have to make another billion to pass anything to my kids."