Ruffin outlines for Nevada regulators his plans for Circus Circus Las Vegas

Ruffin outlines for Nevada regulators his plans for Circus Circus Las Vegas

  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
December 5, 2019 11:31 AM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

Casino owner Phil Ruffin made it clear Wednesday that the 37-acre parcel at the corner of the Strip and Sahara Avenue he is acquiring as part of his $825 million purchase of Circus Circus Las Vegas is not for sale.

In fact, Ruffin hinted that the site, currently being used as the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, might be the most lucrative part of acquisition, which was recommended for approval by the Nevada Gaming Control Board following a 30-minute hearing in Carson City.

“I’ve been approached by a lot of developers, but we’re not interested in selling,” Ruffin said. “It’s a great parcel, a great piece of land.”

Phil Ruffin

The 84-year-old Ruffin, who also owns Treasure Island – now rebranded as TI – agreed in October to acquire the 4,000-room hotel-casino and the surrounding land on the north end of the Strip from MGM Resorts International, which plans to use the sale’s proceeds to pay down the company’s debt.

That’s one reason Nevada gaming regulators expedited the hearing on the purchase.

The folksy Ruffin, a self-made billionaire from Wichita, Kansas, outlined several ideas for Circus Circus during the hearing. The total site, which includes the hotel-casino and several undeveloped parcels, is 102 acres.

Ruffin said Circus Circus’ Adventure Dome indoor theme park isn’t going anywhere, but the 10-acre recreational vehicle park adjacent to the hotel-casino will be replaced in favor of a swimming pool complex similar to Mandalay Bay’s down the Strip, which includes sand beaches and a lazy river water ride.

“Goodbye RV park,” Ruffin said. “We’re not doing that anymore. It’s a good spot for a swimming pool.”

The Circus Circus casino itself will be renovated to include a “stadium-style gaming” area that Ruffin said has been successful at TI, and the property’s hotel rooms will be renovated over time, but the price point – Circus Circus offers some of the lowest nightly rates on the Strip – will not change.

“Circus Circus is a different demographic than TI,” Ruffin said. “There is always a demand for a lower (nightly room price) on the Strip. The property does well. We anticipate doing $50 million a year in cash flow. That’s a 10% return. Plus, we get all the dirt.”

Circus Circus is the only property currently in the MGM portfolio that does not charge for parking, an aspect Ruffin won’t change. Parking also remains free at TI.

“I think (paid parking) is a stupid idea,” Ruffin said.

Ruffin said the Circus Circus sportsbook would be leased to sports betting operator William Hill US. However, he has no plans to turn over the TI sportsbook to William Hill.

The deal also includes the small Slots-A-Fun casino that Ruffin said would be quickly renovated.

The primary attraction, however, is the location – a short walk from the $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas project and directly across Las Vegas Boulevard from the $1.2 billion expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Both developments are expected to open in 2021.

Ruffin also highlighted plans for a new Cirque du Soleil show – The Illusionists, which is playing in New York – to be housed at Circus Circus, in a 2,000-seat theater constructed on the front side of the property. TI is home to Mystere by Cirque du Soleil and Ruffin told regulators it was important that the Strip property had a production show. Ruffin said he would spend $11 million on the project.

A spokesperson from Cirque du Soleil did not return an email request for comment. The Nevada Gaming Commission is expected to take up the matter on Dec. 19.

Ruffin acquired Treasure Island from MGM in 2009 for $775 million. He also owns Casino Miami, which is located less than 20 minutes from Downtown Miami. The small Casino Miami has 1,000 slot machines and electronic table games and is opening a race book with William Hill US on Thursday.

Ruffin has a current net worth of $2.8 billion, according to Forbes. He made a fortune in real estate, but his biggest deal was selling the New Frontier in 2007 for $1.2 billion. He acquired the Las Vegas Strip casino in 1998 for $165 million, earning accolades at the time for ending a six-and-a-half-year-long hotel workers’ strike against the property.

Today, he’s probably best known nationally as President Donald Trump’s business partner in the Trump International in Las Vegas. The future president was Ruffin’s best man at his wedding in 2008 to his wife, Oleksandra, a former Miss Ukraine.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.