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Wynn and Trump a true Vegas odd couple

Sep 15, 2015 3:09 AM

Wynn Resorts Ltd. CEO Steve WynnThe relationship between Donald Trump and Steve Wynn has often looked like a show biz kind of thing over the 30-plus years or so that the two high octane personalities have been running into each other in the casino business.

Oh, they might grumble and growl and do a bit of reasonably public bickering or name calling on any given day, but then you’d hear they were also playing golf together whenever their respective pursuits put them in the same town at the same time.

Their fussing and feuding provided easy stories for news reporters who had been assigned to cover the gaming industry during a time when the only action to speak of was in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

The point being Steve Wynn serving as an “unofficial adviser” – that’s how the supposed role has been most often described – makes perfect sense since both men have shown themselves to have an appreciation of relationships with all the right people.

A gaming industry veteran who knows both men better than I ever will was reminding me of a remark he had made the year before when he told me, “they’re like a couple of professional wrestlers, acting as though they don’t like each other as they strut around the ring. Then, what they do is go back to the dressing room take off the attitude and go to dinner together.”

They always had something reasonably unprintable to say about each other back in the early 1980s when Wynn’s Golden Nugget and Trump’s Trump Plaza were the talk of Atlantic City. The monthly release of revenue numbers was known to have each of them making remarks about the other that were something less than complimentary.

But the run-in that sticks with me was the Gaming Hall of Fame dinner in Las Vegas in 1995, the year Trump was inducted. Wynn was already in the Hall, but when he heard Trump was to be inducted he said he wanted his name removed. His rationale for the demand – and he was not reluctant to share it – was that he wanted no part of a gaming hall of fame that would accept Trump as a member.

The shocked executives in charge of the charity affair – it raised money for a local domestic crisis shelter – did their best to satisfy Wynn and eventually decided to put his picture on the cover of the magazine distributed at the gaming trade show.

Trump stood up at the formal dinner to make his thank-you-it’s-an-honor remarks but then held up a copy of the magazine with Wynn’s picture and said, “But this cover, this is (expletive.)”

Those at the dinner remember the audience response as “rather tepid.” But that is the way it has often been over the years whenever Wynn and Trump decided to take on the same issue from opposite sides.

A little shock and awe can go a long way, but a valuable relationship is something a man can take to the bank. Things can turn around in a hurry when there is a reason.

Both men have reputations for being able to forgive and forget on a dime, not carrying a public grudge whenever they spot something of value in a relationship. What they have in common these days is their intense dislike of just about everything that has come out of Washington and the Obama administration during recent years.

Wynn’s respect for relationships that have made a positive difference in his life is well known. Thinking about those early days in Las Vegas before his name alone was enough to open doors, he told me, “It was easy to open doors and get thing done with (E.) Parry (Thomas) holding the door for me.” Thomas was the legendary banker who invented the concept of loaning money to Nevada’s legal casinos.

During the early days of the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street, Wynn recognized the importance of building personal relations with entertainers such as Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson, people who could bring personality and an entertaining presence to what was then a casino with a tiny lounge.

What does Wynn bring to his born-again relationship – if that’s what it is – with Trump?

Perhaps it is an opportunity to be in a position of influence when doors are opened that could be important to the gaming industry. Has there ever been a presidential election cycle when gaming was so well positioned to make a difference?

I don’t think so.

All Wynn and Trump have to do now is bring Sheldon Adelson into their little club.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: [email protected].

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