CASINOS Trump’s Rep With Russian Gambling Bosses
Trump’s Rep With Russian Gambling Bosses
When the president-elect set out to build towers and casinos in Moscow in the 1990s, he had some
pretty racy friends. Now they root for him—but don’t really trust him.
MOSCOW—The casinos here in the 1990s saw their share of bloody brawls, dirty scams, and murders. Most
of the best known were controlled by organized-crime groups that fought each other for money and
Just one example: In the early 1990s, a leader of the Solntsevo criminal group, Valery Vlasov, ran
Valery, one of Moscow’s most popular casinos, where shadowy businessmen and Russian Mafiosi laundered
money through the gambling business while they spent their leisure time looking for prostitutes and
making connections. It was a favorite venue for the post-Soviet “golden youth” to meet with pop stars
or mid-level politicians. Then, in 1993, Vlasov was shot down right at the entrance to Valery.
Russian millionaire Igor Ballo, the president of the Russian Gambling Business Association, could
share volumes of memories from “the wild 1990s.” He founded the first ruble casino in Russia, owned
several casinos in Moscow, Iraq, and Egypt, and donated a lot of his money to charities.
But Ballo is especially fond of one memory: that day in early November 1996 when he says he predicted
the future for Donald Trump.
That day the door to Ballo’s luxurious Beverly Hills casino flew open: “A huge man with orange hair,
an American businessman and a casino owner, Trump, walked in to talk business,” Ballo told The Daily
Beast in a recent interview. “He was taller than me. I looked at him with interest. In fact, he
impressed me so much from our first meeting that I later told him that he was the future American
president, but Trump just waved his hand. He was not interested in politics back then,” Ballo
recalled. Moreover, “He sounded frustrated, even angry with our rules.”
The two sat down for a frank conversation; they had common interests in making money. In his five
visits to Russia, the now U.S. president-elect had various businesses and entertainment agendas in
Moscow, where he offered authorities investments of more than $300 million.
“Trump was furious that by our law he could not privatize Moscow’s land,” Ballo told me: “‘This is
wrong! Say I build towers and then they ask me to get out of Moscow!’ he complained to me.”