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Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin buys Miami casino

Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin is expanding his gaming footprint to the East coast.

The Strip billionaire snapped up a casino near downtown Miami after Florida voters passed an amendment last month that could halt new gaming developments in the state.

Ruffin, 83, bought the 200,000-square-foot Casino Miami, he said in a statement Wednesday. It is his first gaming acquisition in a decade. Ruffin did not disclose the price, but the property most recently sold in $2014 for $155 million.

“I look forward to entering the Miami gaming market through this acquisition. We have exciting plans for Casino Miami that we will be revealing in the near future,” said Ruffin.

Casino Miami sits on 21 acres of developable land and currently features 1,012 slot machines and electronic table games. The property generated $68 million in gross gaming last year and $60 million over the first 10 months of 2018, according to UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.

Casino Miami also features a live entertainment space, bar, café dining area, live jai-alai games and simulcast betting.

Ruffin’s spokeswoman Michelle Knoll said the billionaire intends to build a hotel on property without giving more details. Miami is a top U.S. tourist destination with 16 million overnight visitors in 2017, according to a report by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Amendment 3

Ruffin’s purchase comes just a month after voters in Florida approved Amendment 3 that gives them the right to authorize casino expansion across the state. Previously, that right was held by the state legislature.

The amendment, supported by Disney and the Seminole Tribe, will make it harder to expand gaming in the state, increasing the value of existing gaming licenses.

Ruffin “had been interested in the Florida gaming market for quite some time. When this property came available, he felt that it met his financial parameters for acquisition. This purchase became even more valuable with the Florida law that will seriously impair the issuance of future gaming licenses,” Knoll said.

Casino Miami is one of just eight commercial casino properties operating in Florida. The state also has casinos run by the Seminole Tribe.

The commercial casinos generated $547 million in net gaming revenues last year, up 17 percent from 2014, according to Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

The commercial casinos are limited to a maximum 2,000 gaming machines each and are required to pay an annual licensing fee of $2 million plus a $250,000 regulatory fee to help fund Florida’s compulsive gambling program.

Decade Pause

Ruffin entered the Las Vegas gaming industry when he purchased the New Frontier in 1998 for $167 million. He would make Strip history when he sold the property in 2007 for $1.2 billion.

The timing was impeccable, coming at the top of the market.

The billionaire then used some of that cash to buy Treasure Island in December 2008 from MGM Resorts International as the worst economic downturn in decades threatened to bankrupt the company.

Ruffin also owns 50 percent of Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.

Contact Todd Prince at 702-383-0386 or tprince@reviewjournal.com. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

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