It?s Time To Boot Donald Trump From Gambling?s Hall Of Fame

Written By Steve Friess on March 7, 2023Last Updated on March 23, 2023
Donald Trump AGA Hall of Fame Removal

He’s a twice-impeached former president of the United States whose attempted sabotage of the peaceful transfer of power led to a deadly mob storming our government’s seat of power. His rhetoric about pretty much every minority group is awash in cruelty and insult. The core company he built is now considered a criminal enterprise.

And, perhaps most germane to the topic at hand, his career in casino-resorts was such a disaster that when he finally got around to building in Las Vegas he didn’t bother trying to get a gaming license. He knew it wouldn’t go well.

So why, pray tell, is Donald J. Trump a member of the American Gaming Association’s Hall of Fame? He failed time and again in this industry. He stiffed countless contractors in declaring bankruptcy repeatedly and bragged about. But he belongs in a league with such greats as Sam Boyd, Kirk Kerkorian, Sheldon Adelson, Jackie Gaughan, or Bill Harrah?

The answer: No. And, for the honor and dignity of an industry that has spent decades clawing its way to respectability, he must be removed.

Read more from the State of Play column:

Steve Wynn saw Trump as a joke

You know who else knew that Trump didn’t belong? Steve Wynn. He lost his sh*t back in the day and demanded he be removed from the hall if Trump would be going in.

In 1995, when Trump was enshrined, the “process” of selection came down to the unilateral decision of the publishers of International Gaming and Wagering Business Magazine (IGBW). That was it. At that time, the AGA was a modest, ineffective ragtag group; former Republican National Committee chairman Frank Fahrenkopf wouldn’t bring his political savvy and credibility to it as its first executive director until later that year. Also, Harry Reid was still a few years away from an ascent to Democratic leadership that would give the gaming industry serious relevance on Capitol Hill.

So the publishers just picked ‘em, and they chose Trump that year. The whole thing was icky; two of the three men in charge had Trump ties. One, Gary Selesner, now president of Caesars Development, started his career as an ad manager at the Trump Plaza and eventually climbed to be president of that hotel.  The other, Howard J. Klein, had just come off a four-year stint as a senior vice president of marketing at the Trump Taj Mahal.

Unlike now, when the AGA puts out a press release and inducts its honorees with a big ceremony at the Global Gaming Expo, there was pretty much no mainstream media coverage and little pageantry. It was basically a cocktail reception.

The 1995 reception took place in a villa at the Mirage, which Wynn owned. Roger Gros, the legendary casino industry journalist who at the time worked for Casino Journal magazine, was there. Gros, now publisher of Global Gaming Business, described the scene to me:

“They had named Wynn probably three or four years prior to that. When they named Trump, he wasn’t happy. Wynn came up to the publisher and started reaming him a new **shole. ‘How can you let this ignoramus low-life become part of this great hall of fame?’ And then he said, ‘Take me out of it. I don’t want to be in it anymore.’  I was just very, very uncomfortable being in the middle of that.”

Wynn later became BFFs with Trump. He went to his wedding to Melania. A decade later, he would name his new resort, the Wynn Las Vegas, after himself in part because Trump urged him to do so.  Wynn became finance director for the Republican National Committee in 2017 right after Trump became president. And, of course, Wynn is now an industry pariah in his own right because of allegations of his own sexual misconduct.

Back in 1995, though, he was so disgusted that he disassociated himself. That’s why Wynn is listed on the AGA’s website as having become a Hall of Famer in 2006, the year after Wynn Las Vegas opened. By then, he was OK with being in Trump’s company.

Trump’s checkered casino history makes him unworthy

Gros believes Trump was a fair choice for the hall at the time and deserves to remain. He had a series of Atlantic City resorts back then – the Trump Plaza, the Trump Castle, and the Trump Taj Mahal. He was a year from opening the Trump World’s Fair there and was developing a property in Gary, Indiana. Argues Gros:

“Yeah, I think he does belong in it just because of the visibility he brought to the casino industry in the ‘90s with all of his Atlantic City casinos. His self-promotion also was promotion for the casino business. He made his name in the casino business, you have to admit.  He certainly was a developer in New York, but nobody really knew who he was until he was getting into wars with Steve Wynn and people like that. So, yes, I do think he belongs in it, even though he wasn’t very good at business in it.”

I disagree – and not just because he went on to be the greatest threat to American democracy since Joe McCarthy although that really ought to supersede anything else he ever did. Gros is correct that he wasn’t good at the casino business; in fact he manipulated it financially in such a way that made the mid-century mafia look like choir boys.

It was 1995, the same year as his enshrinement, when he took Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts public. At the time that must have bolstered the case for honoring him, but in retrospect, it’s clear what he was up to.

The company, having raised capital from investors, bought Trump out of several hotel assets – and then went bankrupt. Later, as a presidential candidate, he would smirk and smile about how clever he had been to work the system as he had to avoid paying contractors and pocket so much money.

Trump essentially left the casino industry in humiliation – except Trump is shameless, so he didn’t know it. He rehabbed his image and poured rocket fuel on his public profile through NBC’s “The Apprentice,” and the rest is the worst kind of history.

UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research screenshot

Make the AGA Hall of Fame great again

The AGA has done an admirable job since it commandeered the Hall of Fame and turned it into something real. There’s now a committee that makes decisions, and it’s impossible to quibble with the merits of any recent inductee.

Still, the whole enterprise is a mess. There’s no physical space, so it exists solely on the web where its pages are managed disastrously by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas’ Center for Gaming Research.

Nobody at UNLV or the AGA seems to even knows who’s in charge, so nobody knows how to fix it. Trump, for instance, is listed as a 1995 inductee but the profile that UNLV hosts says he was inducted in 2005. Steve Wynn is still described as “currently chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts.” Elaine Wynn is still married to Steve. Long-deceased inductees including ex-MGM Resorts CEO Terry Lanni, Debbie Reynolds, and Jackie Gaughan are all still alive.

What’s interesting is that Trump himself seems to take little pride in this particular honor. He doesn’t even boast about it. Here in Michigan, the big joke is that whenever he comes around it’s only a matter of time before he claims he was once Michigan’s Man of the Year. Fact-checkers have searched high and low to figure out what he’s talking about and nobody’s yet to come up with anything. It is assumed he made it up.

Of course, I’m realistic. The AGA is a D.C. lobbying organization. They can’t kick Trump out without Republicans on Capitol Hill calling for hearings and probably arrests. They’re just that cuckoo these days.

But there is a way. Just dump the entire Hall of Fame roster from before the AGA took over full control of it and implemented an actual process in. Then re-induct the folks who deserved the honor and leave Trump in the dustbin of its history.

I even have a slogan for this process: MAGAGA. Make the American Gaming Association Great Again!

Photo by Playin USA
Steve Friess Avatar
Written by
Steve Friess

Steve Friess is the national gambling industry correspondent for Playin USA and its related local sites. He is also a contributing writer for Newsweek. A Long Island native who earned a journalism degree at Northwestern University, Friess worked at newspapers in Rockford, Illinois, Las Vegas, and South Florida before launching a freelance career in Beijing, China, where he served as chief China correspondent for USA Today. After his return to the U.S. in 2003, he settled in Las Vegas, where he covered the gambling industry and the American Southwest regularly for The New York Times, Playboy, The New Republic, Time, Portfolio, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. During that time, he created and co-hosted two successful and groundbreaking podcasts, the celebrity-interview show The Strip and the animal affairs program The Petcast. In 2011-12, Friess was a Knight-Wallac e Fellow for at the University of Michigan. That was followed by a stint as a senior writer covering the intersection of technology and politics at Politico in Washington, D.C., In 2013, he returned permanently to Ann Arbor, where he now lives with his husband, son, daughter and three Pomeranians. He tweets at @SteveFriess and can be reached at [email protected]

View all posts by Steve Friess