Photographer: David McNew/Getty Images

For Best Party Ever, Trump's Calling on Billionaire Casino Pals

  • Vegas billionaires headline president-elect’s inaugural panel
  • Entertainment ties could bring top acts to Washington gala

Want to throw a great inauguration party? Call your friends in the casino business.

President-elect Donald Trump, who ran as many as four casinos, named his inauguration committee Tuesday and is leaning heavily on billionaires from the industry.

Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman Steve Wynn, Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam are on the 20-member committee that will plan and oversee the inauguration. So is Treasure Island casino owner Phil Ruffin and Gail Icahn, wife of billionaire Carl Icahn, who controls Tropicana Entertainment Inc.

Tom Barrack, executive chairman of investment firm Colony Capital and a former owner of Hilton casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, New Jersey, will chair the committee, which is responsible for all events on Inauguration Day. Trump and his running mate, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, are scheduled to be sworn in on Jan. 20. The event includes the traditional ceremony outside the U.S. Capitol, celebrations on the National Mall and a gala at night.

“Well we got our first casino owner in the White House,” said Ron Reese, a spokesman for the Adelsons. 

Trump ran casinos bearing his name in Atlantic City for two decades. As gambling has expanded to 40 states, the business has relied more on entertainment for growth. Las Vegas resorts now get the majority of their revenue from non-gambling sources such as shows and night clubs.

Strip Makeover

In Las Vegas, a makeover of its famed Strip has helped the city rebound from the 2008 financial crisis. Real estate deals have been on the upswing, and hotel operators have been rebranding and refreshing old Vegas landmarks to attract new crowds. For example, The Hotel, one of MGM’s Mandalay Bay sites, was reintroduced as the Delano, while Caesars Entertainment Corp. unveiled the Cromwell in what was once Bill’s and originally called the Barbary Coast.

For some, the casino connection may recall the 1961 pre-inaugural ball for John F. Kennedy, when Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford tapped their Las Vegas friends to perform. The casino CEOs may help Trump attract talent at a time when many entertainers backed Hillary Clinton.

Wynn and Adelson are both billionaires and long-time Republican supporters. In August, Wynn said he hadn’t decided whether to vote for Trump. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, owned by the Adelsons, endorsed Trump after previously recommending Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the primary.

The two were highly critical of newly inaugurated President Barack Obama in February 2009, when he warned companies receiving government aid during the financial crisis that they shouldn’t “take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.” Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. canceled events in Vegas as a result.

The committee appointments are somewhat ceremonial and will involve fund-raising to pay for the events, according to Ruffin, who said in an interview that the panel will hold its first meeting next week. Treasure Island features the resident show “Mystère,” by Cirque du Soleil. Ruffin couldn’t say if the troupe’s acrobats would perform in Washington.

“I can supply them, if they want them,” he said.

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