MGM Doing Business With Phil Ruffin Again as Billionaire Real Estate Investor Considers Buying Circus Circus

Posted on: September 20, 2019, 02:05h. 

Last updated on: September 20, 2019, 03:37h.

MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM), as part of its ongoing effort to unlock value from its real estate assets, is reportedly in talks to sell its Circus Circus property on the Las Vegas Strip to billionaire investor Phil Ruffin.

Circus Circus could be for sale and Phil Ruffin is reportedly eyeing the property. (Image: TripSavvy)

News of the discussion was reported earlier today by Bloomberg, with the news agency citing unidentified sources familiar with the matter. Ruffin and MGM have history together. In late 2008, the Kansas businessman paid $775 million, $500 million in cash and $275 million in debt, to acquire the Treasure Island on the Strip from MGM, then known as MGM Mirage.

Ruffin, a college dropout with an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion, has been rumored to be interested in adding to his portfolio of Sin City holdings. Along with his ownership of Treasure Island, which is estimated to be worth twice as much today as what he paid for it nearly 11 years ago, Ruffin owns 50 percent of the Trump International on the Strip. The investor, a longtime friend and supporter of President Trump, also owns Casino Miami, located near Trump’s Doral golf resort.

Circus Circus, now more than 50 years old, was once a flagship property of publicly traded Circus Circus Enterprises,” according to Bloomberg. “MGM ultimately acquired that company. The resort itself is located at the less-trafficked north end of the Strip.”

A price tag for the property was not mentioned in the Bloomberg article. But Circus Circus consistently has the lowest occupancy rates among MGM’s Strip venues due in large part to its location. The operator’s other Las Vegas casinos include Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand and the Mirage.

Speaking Of Bellagio And MGM Grand…

It is rumored that a sale of Circus Circus could be revealed as part of a broader real estate announcement by MGM in the coming weeks. Earlier this week, rumors swirled that the gaming company is in talks with private equity firm Blackstone about sale/leaseback transactions for the Bellagio and the MGM Grand.

Wall Street analysts believe selling those two ritzy Strip properties could net MGM up to $6 billion after taxes. But if the company sells those venues along with Circus Circus, it will no longer own the real estate assets of any of its Sin City casinos. MGM Growth Properties, the real estate firm previously owned by the gaming company, owns the real estate assets of Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, New York New York and Park MGM.

MGM has a 50 percent stake in CityCenter. It is believed that a sale of Circus Circus to Ruffin will be a traditional transaction and not involve a leaseback component.

Property Became An Afterthought

Circus Circus was once one of the jewels in the crown of a public company by the same name. That entity was folded into Mandalay Resort Group via a 1999 acquisition, with that company being purchased by MGM Mirage in 2004.

While Circus Circus has been part of the MGM family for almost 15 years, the property is often viewed as a stepchild, not a blood relative, compared to the parent company’s other Strip assets.

As just one example, members of the M Life Rewards program can accrue points at 11 Las Vegas properties operated by MGM, but Circus Circus isn’t one of them. That venue offers the Circus Players Club, which isn’t tied to M Life.