Did Donald Trump Ever Try for the Vegas Casino Market?

Las Vegas Advisor
Wild Casino

After reading today’s QOD about presidents and casino gambling, I’m wondering if Donald Trump ever came close to entering the Las Vegas market back when he still owned casinos in Atlantic City.


Well … yes and no. It depends on how serious he really was about making inroads in Sin City and only Donald Trump knows that for sure.

In September 1986, Donald Trump bought a 4.9% position in Holiday Corp., which owned casinos in Atlantic City and Nevada. However, it appears to have been a speculative move, as he cashed out at a profit two months later. Trump used the proceeds to buy into Bally’s Corporation.

He subsequently made overtures about obtaining a gaming license, but didn't get very far. Nevada regulators could see that the Taj Majal, Trump's piece de resistance in Atlantic City, was in trouble before it even opened (in April 1990, then defaulted on interest payments to bondholders six months later; in July 1991, the Taj filed for bankruptcy). The chairman of the Gaming Commission suggested at the time that Trump might be a "greenmailer," meaning someone who acquires large quantities of stock, then threaten a takeover, forcing the company to buy back the shares at a premium in order to maintain control.

The Trump camp rejected the implication, but no further activity took place until 2004 when, in another speculative move, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts purchased 358,000 shares of Riviera stock. The buy put the companies over the 10% threshold in Nevada, requiring Trump to be licensed. 

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the licensing process went pretty smoothly. “Members of the Control Board asked Trump and his executives about problems with minors gaining entry to his New Jersey properties, but Chief Operating Officer Mark Brown said the company is making every effort to control the problem.”

“Trump has talked for years about moving into the Las Vegas casino industry, but his expected licensing by the end of the month will make it much easier to put deals together,” reported the R-J

Even then, Trump cashed out of his Riviera stock without incident and made little substantive foray into Sin City gambling afterwards.

The lone exception was some loose talk about going in with his friend Phil Ruffin on redeveloping the site of the New Frontier. Trouble was, Ruffin and Trump had dueling concepts on what kind of megaresort to build in its place. The duo did make a foray into non-gaming development, erecting Trump International, a $1 billion condo tower, using part of the old New Frontier site.

One last gasp of a possibility surfaced in 2016 when Trump had already been running for the White House for nine months. Ruffin, announced that he was "hoping to build a casino" adjacent to Trump International. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ruffin planned to split the casino 50/50 with the Trump Organization. Eric Trump added “that various possible expansion plans have been discussed, including the casino and a new convention space.” 

Again, nothing came of it. Did it mark the end of Donald Trump's personal ambition to enter the Las Vegas casino market? We'd say probably. But what the Trump Organization might do in the future is anyone's guess. 

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Tomorrow's Question

How about the history of the Mirage?