Billionaire casino mogul Phil Ruffin disputes that there was anything unusual about a multi-million dollar payment the Las Vegas hotel he co-owns with President Donald Trump made to the Republican candidate during the 2016 election.
The New York Times published a story Friday examining the one-time payment to Trump as part of its ongoing coverage of the president’s tax returns. The story asserted that Trump was in desperate need of cash as he self-financed his 2016 campaign.
The story builds on a 2019 Kansas City Star story in which Ruffin disclosed that the hotel made a $28 million payment to Trump in 2016 for back fees.
The New York Times story states that the total payment was $21 million based on Trump’s tax returns, but in an interview with The Star Friday, Ruffin continued to assert that the amount was $28 million.
Ruffin, who grew up in Wichita, said that the money was for licensing fees the hotel owed Trump as part of their joint venture.
“It was fees we owed him and the property owed him, and so he got paid. What he did with the money, I don’t know,” Ruffin said Friday. “It’s his money. … He accumulated over a 10-year period these fees and he didn’t ask for it until the property was paid off. It’s a straight deal.”
Ruffin first disclosed the payment in 2019 when Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, faced questions during a House Oversight Committee hearing about payments from a Kansas businessman.
Ruffin lives in Las Vegas, but maintains holdings in Kansas, including the Wichita Greyhound Park and the Woodlands racetrack in Kansas City, Kansas.
“It was branded a Trump hotel and Trump has value. These were fees that we agreed to when we built the damn thing,” Ruffin said Friday, disputing the characterization that the payments were unusual and contending that Marriott branding would have been more expensive.
“I don’t know what they’re trying to dig up but they’re on the wrong track. Our records showed we owed him the money.”
The payment took place in 2016, the same year Trump was elected president.
Ruffin said he didn’t know what Trump did with the money, but he was skeptical that his long-time friend and business partner would have put it into his presidential campaign.
“He’d be crazy to do that,” Ruffin said. “It was his money. He can do whatever the hell he wants with it.”
The New York Times story notes that Ruffin was a major contributor to Trump’s campaign and his inauguration, donating more than $2.5 million.
The Times reported in late September that Trump paid just $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017. The paper also said he appeared to be responsible for more than $400 million in loans, with most coming due between now and 2024.
The size of Trump’s debt has raised concerns that Trump could face undue pressure from creditors during his second term if he wins re-election.
“It’s going to be a very close election this year,” Ruffin said. “For four years he’s had the media against him, but we’re for him. We still think he may win, but it will be close.”
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