Phil Ruffin Wins Kansas Historical Horse Racing License, Will Open Casino in Wichita

Posted on: July 14, 2023, 10:36h. 

Last updated on: July 14, 2023, 10:50h.

Billionaire Phil Ruffin, 88, has wanted to open a casino in his home state of Kansas for more than two decades. The Wichita native’s dream made a giant step forward this week after it secured the state’s lone license to operate historical horse racing machines (HHRs) in Sedgwick County.

Phil Ruffin Kansas casino Wichita HHR
Phil Ruffin plans to bring a casino with historical horse racing machines to the former Wichita Greyhound Park after the billionaire received a state gaming license this week. Ruffin’s team hopes to open the casino sometime in late 2024. (Image: The Wichita Eagle)

HHRs look and operate similarly to Las Vegas-style slot machines but their outcomes are based on previously run horse races and the machines are actually pari-mutuel wagering devices. The Kansas Legislature last year passed a bill authorizing a single HHR license to be issued by the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission (KRGC).

The HHR permit allows the license holder to operate up to 1,000 historical racing machines at a designated casino property in Sedgwick. After initially fielding three bids for the lone concession, KRGC officials invalidated Boyd Gaming’s application since the Las Vegas-based casino company already operates the Kansas Star Casino on the Kansas Lottery’s behalf.

Another bid was subsequently withdrawn this week. That left Ruffin the lone man standing for the HHR license. During the agency’s meeting on Thursday, the KRGC formally approved Ruffin for the gaming license.

Wichita Greyhound Park Reimagining

With an HHR license in hand, Ruffin, who owns Treasure Island and Circus Circus in Las Vegas and who additionally controls a 50% stake in the nongaming Trump International Las Vegas, plans to renovate his former Wichita Greyhound Park into a casino and country music venue.

Ruffin says he’ll spend $128 million to transform the former greyhound race track, which he closed in August 2007 after voters in Sedgwick County rejected a local referendum to permit electronic gaming machines at the track. The casino will span three floors of what’s currently the track’s grandstands, and include a bar and simulcast pari-mutuel facility.

There’s a lot to do. We’re going to have restaurants and pizza by the slice and smoothies and all kinds of great food from our executive chef in Las Vegas, who’s going to come down and train our staff,” said Ruffin’s son, Phil Ruffin Jr., a Wichita resident who’s expected to oversee the project. “We’re a long way away. We’re about 14 months until we open. And I want to be ahead of schedule and under budget. It’s a long row to hoe, and we’re really looking forward to it.”

The casino will be called the Golden Circle and employ about 400 people. Once the HHR operations are up and running and Ruffin begins reaping gaming revenue, the billionaire says he’ll consider adding a 110-room hotel.

The initial $128 million investment will additionally include a country music bar called Gilley’s Dance Hall and Saloon. The venue will be modeled after the famous Texas honky-tonk bar featured in the 1980 John Travolta hit film, “Urban Cowboy.”

Dogs Won’t Return

Ruffin says he has no plans to bring back greyhound racing to the track that will soon be known as the Golden Circle Casino. Kansas is one of only eight states that still doesn’t prohibit dog racing, with the others being Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

While dog racing is legal in those states, the only active dog racetracks are in West Virginia. The Wichita Greyhound Park hosted live dog racing from its opening in 1989 until its closure in 2007.