Fact Check

Did the Nevada Gaming Commission Deny Trump a Casino License?

We were unable to substantiate a claim that Donald Trump was denied a license by the Nevada Gaming Commission because he was not "trustworthy."

Published Feb 29, 2016

Donald Trump's Las Vegas property is not a casino because the Nevada Gaming Commission refused Trump a gaming license and deemed him insufficiently "trustworthy."

Donald Trump the politician was a relatively new personality in 2016, as many people had already known him for years as a real estate mogul and reality television star.  His longtime presence in American pop culture made him an especially rich source of urban legends, misinformation, and memes. In February 2016, the above-reproduced an image-based rumor claimed that Trump's Las Vegas hotel lacked a casino because the Nevada Gaming Commission had deemed Trump not "trustworthy" enough to qualify for one:

We located one possible source for the claim in a 23 February 1987 New York Times article. According to piece, which was nearly 30 years old, Trump had difficulty in the 1980s with attempts to expand his empire west:

Last September Mr. Trump bought a 4.9 percent stake in the Holiday Corporation, which operates casinos in Atlantic City and Nevada. He sold the stake at a $35 million profit in November and bought into Bally.

Mr. Trump recently applied for a Nevada casino license, but Paul Bible, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission at the time, said that Nevada regulators would look askance at any ''greenmailer'' who hurts casino companies operating in Nevada by acquiring large quantities of stock in order to sell the stake back to the company at a premium.

Mr. Trump's sale of the Holiday shares was on the open market, after takeover rumors boosted the market price. In court papers filed for the Camden hearing, Mr. Trump's lawyers denied that their client had invested in Bally for the purpose of selling to the company at a premium.

''Mr. Trump has never been, and is not presently, a greenmailer or corporate raider,'' his counterclaim said.

Seventeen years later, Trump's activity in Vegas again made headlines. A February 2004 Las Vegas Review-Journal article included information about the Nevada Gaming Commission's view of Trump at the time:

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 [in or around early 2003], put [Trump] 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.

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 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.

Later that month, the Associated Press reported that Trump was approved by Nevada state regulators to hold a stake in the Riviera hotel and casino:

The Gaming Commission approved Trump and companies that he controls as part of a registration and suitability-finding process that would speed up any actual casino licensing in the future.

Repeating his Feb. 4 comments to the commission's investigative arm, the Gaming Control Board, Trump said "it's an honor to be here." He said he had lost many deals in previous years because of a state licensing process that can take more than a year.

Trump paid about $2 million for shares in Riviera Holdings Corp. That put him barely over a 10 percent threshold subjecting investors to investigation and licensure by casino regulators ... The move was designed to start the state licensing process, Trump said, adding that he has little contact with Riviera executives and doesn't intend to expand on his involvement with the property.

Asked about his building plans, Trump said he favors a project such as his Trump towers in Manhattan, Chicago and elsewhere. There's "not a great chance" that it would include New Frontier owner Phil Ruffin of Las Vegas, he added.

Trump's television career and presidential bid probably disrupted any potential ventures in Nevada between 2004 and 2016, but on 25 February 2016, an article in the Wall Street Journal speculated that Trump was revisiting possibilities in Vegas:

Las Vegas casino owner Phil Ruffin said in an interview this week that he is hoping to build a casino with Mr. Trump next to the luxury high-rise Trump Hotel, which the two co-own on the Strip.

He said the plans are still very preliminary, but he expects to accelerate them this year, and the Trump Organization would be a 50% owner. There are still no architectural renderings, land surveys or other concrete proposals, he added ... [Son Eric] Trump said in an interview that various possible expansion plans have been discussed, including the casino and a new convention space. Nothing has been solidified, he said, adding that the family is focused on other matters including the elder Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and developing hotels elsewhere.

The proposed casino would be on a four-acre parcel next to the Trump Hotel, which Mr. Ruffin and Donald Trump opened in 2008 on land that Mr. Ruffin owned. The site is currently a parking lot for the hotel; Mr. Ruffin said the casino would be connected to the existing hotel ... Mr. Ruffin said that he is now contemplating a $100 million casino, with the Trumps as 50% partners.

... Mr. Ruffin said it is unclear if Mr. Trump or his family members would need to undergo the rigorous process of securing a license from the Nevada Gaming Control Board ... Mr. Trump owned casinos in Atlantic City for decades but never had any gambling interests in Nevada.

We were unable to locate any information to substantiate the claim that Trump was ever denied a gaming license or that his Las Vegas hotel was originally planned as a casino.

It was true Trump engaged in legal battles in the 1980s around buying casino stock. But in 2004, Trump was approved for the initial stages of casino-based development, and there was no indication he was ever declined a Nevada Gaming Commission license based on whether he was "trustworthy."

On 2 March 2016, the Nevada Gaming Commission replied to our inquiry, stating that "Donald Trump was licensed by the Nevada Gaming Commission in February 2004."

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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