Wynn-ing streak

Mar 9, 2010 7:02 AM

Steve Wynn’s Philadelphia plan sounds like a first step in a network of regional casinos that could eventually benefit Las Vegas.

Wynn sees the East Coast project providing the basis for the kind of "intimate relationship" with customers that could facilitate marketing efforts by the Wynn and Encore resorts. Almost as an after-thought in his discussion of Philadelphia, Wynn said, "And if another regional opportunity presented itself, one that we understand, we would jump on it because we’ve got the capital and experience to do so."

Other points to keep in mind: Wynn plays very nicely before some types of audiences, people who appreciate the big personality and all he has accomplished – eight, almost nine world class resorts from Las Vegas to Atlantic City and Macau over the last 30-plus years, but he might want to consider inventing a bland, boring alter ego for occasions when he finds himself facing groups that would like nothing more than to kick his Las Vegas showman persona where it hurts.

Wynn appears totally depressed by everything he sees in the Las Vegas market, blaming it all on Washington economic policies. The Democratic-controlled Congress and the Obama administration have done nothing to satisfy him during the last year or so, beating up on Las Vegas’ number one industry at every turn, he says.

Compare that gloominess with his rhapsodizing about Philadelphia and the market potential there for Wynn Resorts Ltd. (WYNN). Maybe it all comes down to how many gamblers are an easy drive away from his front door.

As for the politics of Pennsylvania gaming, I had the impression of Gaming Control Board Chairman Gregory Fajt stifling a yawn as he found "some glimmer of hope" that the Foxwoods Philadelphia project can be brought back to life with Wynn as a 51 percent owner and the Connecticut tribe reduced to 14 percent.

Board Member Ken Trujillo listened to Wynn’s presentation and concluded that he is "not convinced" a change of control will ever take place. Trujillo may be right but probably not for the reasons he imagines. It is easy to imagine Wynn losing his patience with the Pennsylvania process and deciding to spend his money elsewhere long before bureaucrats stumble to whatever conclusions they eventually reach.

Look at the years it took to come this far with just slots in Pennsylvania. We may have gaming proposals in Texas and Florida before the Pennsylvania process creaks to its eventual outcome.

The distractions for Wynn are everywhere as his team pushes this project on the Delaware River forward. He was confronted by a reporter with a television camera who got in his face with questions that had a hostile tone. Who are you with? He asked. The Philadelphia Inquirer, she said.

Ah-ha, as though that told Wynn all he needed to know. "You’re the people that don’t like gaming very much," he bristled. Probably an accurate statement, but of course Steve Wynn being Steve Wynn he tends to attract far more notice than plain vanilla CEOs who specialize in sound bites that could be used as cures for insomnia.

Wynn insists there will be no over-shooting the market, something many followers believe he did when he built the Beau Rivage in Biloxi and it was necessary to buy airline seats. But the distance from his Philadelphia front door to likely sources of good business will be measured in blocks rather than miles.

  "I love the proximity to these people. I love the proximity to the Vietnamese neighborhood and I am going to put in a beautiful Vietnamese restaurant for them. I am going to build a very pretty place that is perfectly responsive to that market and it will not be a bit more over the top than that."

All he has to do is hope the politics of Pennsylvania gaming move in the right direction.

  Wynn lights up when he is talking about all that he believes is possible on the Delaware River. "We like being so close to the customers we served when we were in Atlantic City in the early and mid-1980s." The company’s current customer base still has more than 100,000 rated customers from the neighborhoods where Wynn expects to find the bulk of his customers.