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Casino Empires are not Built on Credit

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- As reported by the Las Vegas Sun: "Phil Ruffin prefers numbers to grand statements.

He starts his story by writing numbers on a whiteboard, beginning with $20 million andPhil Ruffin
Phil Ruffin
  ending at $1.2 billion, with a few numbers in between.

The whiteboard reveals no secrets.

"Luck doesn't have anything to do with it," he says. "You've just got to think about how these deals work."

The man who went against the grain, made big money, became a hero and got the girl isn't much for self-aggrandizement.

"Casinos are like any other business — it's a profit center," he said. "It's not that complicated."

• • •

If Phil Ruffin, the owner of Treasure Island, were to write a book, it might be called, "How to Turn $20 Million Into a Billion Dollars."

Or, "Why I Hate Debt and Why You Should, Too."

It wouldn't be filled with cliches on how to get rich quick or live more frugally. Instead, it would read like a short morality play — a kind of fairy tale about a man who built a profitable empire without succumbing to the desire for more money or a grander lifestyle. In the race to resort riches, Ruffin hung back, emerging with an impressive estate amid the crumbling fortunes of his competitors.

The story of how Ruffin acquired Treasure Island could begin as early as 1972, when Kansas became one of the first states in the nation to legalize self-serve gasoline stations. Ruffin, a college dropout, scraped together the money for his first business venture — becoming the man who pioneered self-serve gasoline.

From his Kansas headquarters, Ruffin accumulated a chain of more than 60 convenience stores in the Midwest. In 1972, Ruffin won the right to allow his customers to pump their own gas.

This mundane accomplishment was hard-won.

"There was a lot of opposition from the major oil companies," Ruffin said. "They said women wouldn't pump their own gas, that men in suits wouldn't put gas in their cars."

Ruffin used cash from the convenience stores to build his first hotel, a Marriott in Wichita, in 1987. He also had businesses including oil distribution and one of the country's largest manufacturers of hand trucks. Those were just a sideline to bigger goals.

In 1994, Ruffin signed a 20-year contract to lease his convenience store locations to Total, a French oil company, for $2.2 million a year.

That money fueled the purchase of additional hotels, mostly Marriott properties. His company now owns 11 hotels..."

Treasure Island Resort & Casino
5734 Sturgeon Lake Road
Welch, MN 55089
Toll Free Phone: 800.222.7077
Treasure Island Resort & Casino has 2,500 state-of-the-art slot machines, 44 blackjack tables, video poker, video keno and bingo. It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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