Billionaire Phil Ruffin’s Record-Breaking Sale Reshapes Las Vegas Landscape


May 2007. It’s a date etched in the annals of Vegas history, when billionaire Phil Ruffin astoundingly relinquished the reigns of the iconic Frontier casino resort. Infusing a staggering $1.2 billion into his already affluent coffers, Ruffin sold the Las Vegas Strip phenomenon to an Israeli-owned real-estate consortium, marking a record-setting business transaction in the teeming, vibrant heart of Sin City.

From the Frontier casino’s now barren lot, a magnificent view of the Wynn and Encore Las Vegas unfurls, a spectacle observed intermittently by four different proprietors since 2007. Each passing ownership has shared grandiose visions, yet, none have come to fruition.

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“Ownership was a fulfilling experience,” Ruffin admitted in his conversation with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “but there came a point when it seemed more prudent for new ingenuity to reshape the precinct.”

Seizing that responsibility, El-Ad Properties eagerly razed the iconic 65-year-old edifice in November 2007 with a vision to resurrect New York’s esteemed Plaza Hotel in its place; a mirrored edifice to their existing asset. The site, sprawling across 35 acres, was projected to accommodate 4,100 rooms with a jaw-dropping construction budget of $6 billion.

Fast forward almost 17 years to the present, and those 35 acres betray the past, remaining a stark canvas of deserted potential. Time has dealt a cruel hand, with these unplumbed depths bordering on two decades of stagnation.

In recent news, Bally’s Corp. declared its intention to start a new chapter for the historic Tropicana Las Vegas. The Rhode Island-based company is set to close the Tropicana permanently at 2 a.m. on April 2, followed by a planned demolition in October. Despite the company’s plummeting credit rating, Bally’s claims its plans to build a $1.5 billion baseball stadium for the relocating Oakland A’s are still on track—anticipated to break ground in April 2025.

Yet, many seasoned Vegas observers shroud their expectations in skepticism, fearing another mirage in the desert. This collective dread anticipates another 35-acre void in the vibrant landscape, a haunting reminder of an ambitious project prematurely concluded.

Scott Roeben of observed sarcastically, “One can never have an abundance of illusory ballparks.” His underlying sentiment represents a much wider communal skepticism, specifically concerning Bally’s Corp’s recent financial downgrading. The speculative consensus anticipates a devastating iceberg on Bally’s financial horizon, detrimental for prospective sponsors due to the company’s high-risk financial standing.

Adding fuel to the fire, another ratings firm lowered Bally’s financial standing, further eroding confidence in their ambitious Vegas venture, as well as their proposed casino hotel project in downtown Chicago, reported to be $800 million short of its projected budget.

Sparing a glance at past failed aspirations, we remember El-Ad’s unrealized Plaza project, and the nearby Fontainebleau project— trapped in a 15-year stasis, both victims of the Great Recession.

“We sustain our faith in potential because Las Vegas was erected on hope, and amnesia is an inherent trait,” Roeben pointed out. Amid the echoes of unrealized grandeur and the impending closure of Tropicana, one cannot help but feel a sense of déjà vu in the Las Vegas air.