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Trump Wins Support from Nevada Regulators

5 February 2004

CARSON CITY, Nevada -- After years of discussion about moving into the state, New York developer and casino owner Donald Trump easily won support from state regulators Wednesday for his licensing as a gaming operator.

Trump, who said he is eyeing a number of opportunities in Las Vegas and elsewhere in Nevada, was unanimously recommended for licensing by the Gaming Control Board after a brief hearing.

Trump said he is considering real estate and gaming projects in Las Vegas and that a Trump Tower residential development is a possibility. A Trump Tower project in Las Vegas probably would be exclusively residential, he said.

"Everywhere I do a Trump Tower it's a smash hit," Trump said. "I really want to do something spectacular in Las Vegas and Nevada. I do have plans for Las Vegas. I do have plans perhaps for Nevada, generally." he said.

"My real estate empire is far larger than my gaming empire. I'm a real estate person first. But I see myself doing real estate. I also see myself doing gaming."

Trump would not be more specific about his plans but said news of what he has in mind probably will emerge over the next 12 months.

"I'd rather not comment because of the fact that I don't want to increase my price," he said. "We're looking sort of at a lot of different things."

Trump said he is talking to New Frontier owner Phil Ruffin about a possible development on the 40-acre site on the Strip. But, he said, he is looking elsewhere as well.

"That's one of them," he said of the Ruffin project. "There are many opportunities in Las Vegas. There are many things that are available."

Published reports of Trump's imminent arrival in Las Vegas date back to 1986, when then-Review-Journal columnist Ned Day said the developer had tried to acquire land at the southwest corner of Spring Mountain Road and the Strip from the Summa Corp., now known as The Howard Hughes Corp.

That site instead was purchased by Trump's longtime feuding partner, Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn, who opened The Mirage there in 1989, followed by the adjacent Treasure Island four years later.

In 1986, Trump was linked to a failed takeover of Bally Manufacturing Corp., which at the time owned two Nevada hotel-casinos, including Bally's Las Vegas, as well as separate efforts to buy the Dunes and Desert Inn properties.

A year later, Trump reportedly was chasing control of the Golden Nugget, saying at the time, "I've always wanted Stephen Wynn to work for me." But none of those deals, or several others that followed, were ever finalized.

Trump's relationship with Wynn reportedly has warmed in recent years. A call from Trump last summer supposedly convinced Wynn to dump his project's erstwhile title, Le Reve, and Trump in 2002 told the Review-Journal he and Wynn were "friends now."

However, the big-name developers at times have resembled anything but bosom buddies.

Nearly four years ago, the men settled a long-standing lawsuit that started shortly after Wynn's former company, Mirage Resorts, in the mid-1990s announced plans to build a large resort in Trump's casino stronghold, Atlantic City.

Allegations from both sides quickly followed, ranging from charges that Trump used illegal political influence in an attempt to keep Wynn out of the area to countercharges that a Trump-hired agent tallied the gambling habits of Wynn's mother, among other low points.

At one point, Wynn described the reported actions of Trump's company as "the most outrageous misconduct, the most flagrant violations of law and decent behavior in the history of the resort hotel industry," according to a March 2000 article published by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Trump's attorneys countered with references to Judas Iscariot and a "Faustian deal" with the devil linked to a onetime Trump mole Wynn's company allegedly turned.

A 1996 story in the Wall Street Journal traced the feud back further, claiming the animosity first came to a head in 1985 when Trump purchased a new Hilton hotel in Atlantic City around the time Wynn's bid to buy Hilton Hotel Corp. came up short.

Another reported dispute arose over a planned 1990 heavyweight boxing event Wynn hosted at The Mirage that allegedly interfered with a contract between Trump and promoter Don King, who held the rights to then-champion James "Buster" Douglas.

Wynn reportedly was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

Trump and his companies, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. and the THCR Holding Corp., were required to be licensed by gaming regulators in Nevada after he purchased 358,000 shares of Riviera parent Riviera Holdings Corp.

The purchase, made about a year ago, put him over a threshold requiring investigation and licensure by Nevada gaming regulators.

Trump and the other officers of his companies will appear at the Gaming Commission meeting in the capital on Feb. 19 for final approval.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said the investigations of Trump and his executive team gave the board no need to ask any personal questions at the hearing.

He called the applications "very clean" and said he was impressed with the backgrounds of some of Trump's personnel.

One of the directors recommended for licensing, Don Thomas, is a former chairman of New Jersey's Casino Control Commission.

Members of the control board asked Trump and his executives about problems with minors gaining entry to his New Jersey properties, but Chief Operating Officer Mark Brown said the company is making every effort to control the problem.

Trump said it is difficult when a patron looks 30 but is actually 17 years old.

Control Board member Scott Scherer noted that New Jersey gaming authorities appear to be cracking down hard on minors in all casinos.

Neilander said minors gaining access to casinos is a problem everywhere, especially in Nevada where properties were built before casino designs were required to more strictly separate gaming areas from movie theaters and other areas open to underage visitors.

Trump has talked for years about moving into the Las Vegas casino industry, but his expected licensing by the end of the month will make it much easier to put deals together.

Trump's gaming empire is primarily in New Jersey with the Trump Plaza, Trump Marina and Trump Taj Mahal casino hotels in Atlantic City. But he also has a riverboat operation in Indiana and operates a casino near Palm Springs with the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Luiseno Mission Indians.

Trump said after the hearing that he is talking with people about other Indian gaming projects and that more are likely on the horizon for his company.

The growth of Indian gaming must be watched, but Trump said Las Vegas should do well regardless.

"It could have an impact certainly on Las Vegas and Nevada, but you've got a tremendous infrastructure here and I think it will be fine," he said.

Gaming Wire reporter Chris Jones contributed to this report.