02/14/2003 12:00AM

This time, The Donald may do it

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Is The Donald finally coming?

Donald Trump's recent purchase of about 8,000 shares of Riviera Holdings Corporation stock may signal another attempt for the billionaire developer to enter the Nevada gaming business.

Riviera Holdings Corporation is the parent of the Riviera Hotel Casino on the Strip in Las Vegas and also operates a casino in Black Hawk, Colorado. Trump, who had substantial shares of the company before his latest buy, has now pushed beyond the 10 percent ownership threshold that is allowed by state gaming regulations for those without a license.

Now with a total of 358,000 shares in Riviera, Trump must apply for a gaming license in Nevada.

Trump downplays his $1.7 million stake in the company, saying he has a lot of confidence in Riviera management and that the additional purchase of stock was merely a good investment. Although company officials said Trump's increased interest doesn't mean The Donald is ready to take over, they did say that everything is for sale at a price.

Trump's attraction to Las Vagas has been documented for decades.

The New York and Atlantic City mega-developer has been rumored as a possible suitor for almost every big casino sale dating back to the original Aladdin property in the early 1980's. Through the multiple casino mega-mergers, acquisitions, and expansions of the 1990's, the Trump rumor was always part of the conversation. And, his well-known public barbs aimed at Steve Wynn continued to fuel rumors that he wants in in Las Vegas.

Trump has been relatively quiet in recent years, however. He was initially involved with an upscale country club development in Henderson that is currently in its final phase. And, last spring he announced plans to build Trump Towers Las Vegas with Frontier Hotel Casino owner Phil Ruffin just off the Strip on the Frontier property.

Nevada Gaming Control Board chairman Dennis Neilander said Trump would have 30 days to file for a license application and expects his agency to receive a letter from Trump requesting a license. Although Trump holds a gaming license in New Jersey, where he owns several casinos, Neilander indicated the ensuing Nevada licensing investigation could take as long as a year. Trump said it would be an honor to hold a gaming license in the state and said he had a great respect for regulators and the industry in Nevada.

Trump's ability to become an active player in the Nevada gaming industry could escalate dramatically. With a Nevada gaming license, he would more quickly be able to buy or develop a casino property in the Silver State .

Rumors point to the 8,000 shares of Riviera Holdings Corporation as Trump's entree into the Las Vegas gaming market.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.