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TI owner Phil Ruffin talks more Circus Circus plans

Cirque may be coming to Circus Circus.

Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin on Wednesday told the state Gaming Control Board that “The Illusionists,” which he says is playing in New York and is Cirque du Soleil’s most successful show, would be housed in a 2,000-seat, $11 million theater to be built on the front side of the Circus Circus property.

Ruffin, 84, said the planned theater would “blend in” with the current property frontage.

“We have a long-term relationship with Cirque du Soleil, we have the ‘Mystere’ show at Treasure Island, a very successful show,” Ruffin told board members. “We have a commitment from the president of Cirque du Soleil to put a show in Circus Circus and so we’ve had meetings on that. I firmly believe that a Strip property has to have a permanent show and that’s the deal struck.”

But after Ruffin’s appearance, a Cirque official wouldn’t confirm plans for a show.

“We are always discussing opportunities with our partners but have no new projects to confirm at the moment,” said Cirque Director of Publications Ann Paladie.

Cirque’s “Mystere” at the TI is the only Cirque show not affiliated with MGM. “Mystere,” which opened in December 1993, is the longest-running Cirque show in Las Vegas.

Development details

Ruffin provided several development details for Circus Circus in a hearing in which he was unanimously recommended for approval for licensing by the board.

The recommendation will be forwarded to the Nevada Gaming Commission for consideration on Dec. 19.

MGM Resorts International, which currently owns Circus Circus, confirmed Oct. 15 that Ruffin was buying the 3,700-room family-friendly property that opened in 1968 to the owner of TI for $825 million. The Review-Journal first reported the deal in September.

The transaction includes the 5-acre Adventuredome amusement park, a 10-acre recreational vehicle park and 37-acre festival grounds. Ruffin is hoping to close the deal by the end of the year. He anticipates $80 million annual cash flow from the property.

Meeting with the board in Carson City, Ruffin told members he intends to rehire nearly all of the existing Circus Circus employees.

In addition to the Cirque show, Ruffin told board members about other plans for the property.

Ruffin, who said his company just completed a 3,000-room renovation at TI, would move slowly on renovating Circus Circus. His first improvement efforts will be focused on reopening the adjacent shuttered Slots-A-Fun property.

He’s also contemplating what to do with 20,000 square feet of empty space on the building’s second floor.

“Maybe bingo, who knows?” he said. “There’s a lot to do there, so I think we made a very good investment.”

Asked by board member Terry Johnson whether he believed Circus Circus’ customer base would change with the opening of the Las Vegas Convention Center west hall expansion in early 2021 just across Las Vegas Boulevard, Ruffin said he expects to keep the property as an affordable low-end Strip presence.

“Here you’ve got on the Strip a lower price, and that demographic is huge,” he said. “We don’t want to lose the idea that it’s a family-oriented place.”

Adventuredome stays

He said the Adventuredome, the indoor theme park that features two roller coasters, would continue to operate. Ruffin said the park attracts 2.5 million visitors a year and makes about $30 million a year.

“You’re not going to get me on a roller coaster, but it’s a big traffic builder,” he said.

The RV park, the last one operated by a resort company on the Strip, would be remodeled into a sand-beach pool with a wave machine similar to one operated at Mandalay Bay, Ruffin said.

“We have to build a new pool,” he said. “We saw what Mandalay Bay did with its sand beach. It’s very, very successful. We’re probably going to do something similar to that.”

He also said his company would modify the floor of Circus Circus’ 123,998-square-foot casino — the 14th largest in Southern Nevada — to include more stadium-style casino games that foster a greater social environment.

William Hill at sportsbook

The Circus Circus sportsbook will be managed by William Hill U.S. in a 50-50 agreement with the world’s largest bookmaking company.

“They’re better at it than we are,” Ruffin said of William Hill.

Ruffin said six of the eight sportsbook employees would be retained with some established William Hill employees joining the staff. He said he has no plans to turn the TI sportsbook, which his company operates, over to William Hill.

There also are no plans to refurbish rooms and no immediate plans for the 37-acre festival grounds at Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue.

But Ruffin said he’s received numerous inquiries about that property from suitors he did not identify.

“We have been approached by some developers, but at this time, we are not interested in selling it,” he said.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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