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Vegas billionaire — and close Trump friend — buys Casino Miami

“We will probably add some hotel rooms,” said Phil Ruffin, the new owner of Casino Miami.
“We will probably add some hotel rooms,” said Phil Ruffin, the new owner of Casino Miami.

A long-time Las Vegas casino operator is landing in Miami.

Phil Ruffin, a Wichita, Kansas, native who became a Las Vegas Strip billionaire after developing multiple casinos there, announced this week he had purchased Casino Miami, located at 3500 NW 37th Ave., on the northeast corner of Miami International Airport.

“We plan to bring Las Vegas to Florida,” Ruffin told the Miami Herald.

The purchase price was not disclosed. But after last month’s passage of Amendment 3, which puts commercial gaming license approval in the hands of Florida voters instead of Tallahassee lawmakers, Ruffin believes existing licenses like Casino Miami’s are now that much more valuable. University of Las Vegas-Nevada data show Casino Miami generated about $60 million in revenues through the first 10 months of 2018, an 8 percent increase year-on-year and about double the statewide average.

Ruffin noted the property currently has 21 undeveloped acres. Miami-Dade records list its lot size at more than 300,000 square feet.

“We will probably add some hotel rooms,” he said, pointing to strong demand for hotel bookings at properties surrounding the airport. “We have 14 other hotels, we know that other business too,” he said.

Casino Miami’s nearly 150 employees will be retained, and the property’s name will remain the same. For many years the casino was known as Miami Jai-Alai, and live jai-alai is still played there seven days a week.

The seller was Fronton Holdings, which bought the nearly century-old property for $155 million at a 2014 bankruptcy auction. Fronton president David Jonas told the Miami Herald that he had fielded offers for the property, but that Ruffin’s expansive vision, and his financial offer, won out.

“This is someone who can bring strong brands and ideas to Miami — he could create something Hard Rock-like,” he said, referring to Hollywood’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. “He’s got those concepts.”

Ruffin, 83, is best known for selling the New Frontier casino in Las Vegas in 2007 for a then-record $1.2 billion. He also owns the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino.

Ruffin is also close with President Donald Trump, who served as best man at his wedding, according to the Associated Press. Ruffin has a 50 percent stake in Trump International Hotel Las Vegas. The Wichita Eagle reports Ruffin plans to spend New Year’s Eve at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach County.

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