Steve Wynn’s imagination still creating winners

Steve Wynn’s imagination still creating winners

December 05, 2017 3:00 AM


Spending a couple billion dollars – more or less – on a new resort venture requires careful anticipation of the outcome.

Steve Wynn knew that in the 1970s when the Golden Nugget sold its Atlantic City casino and the chairman and CEO had enough cash to take a running start on what would be The Mirage on the Las Vegas Strip. During the months before its December 1989 opening he explained in a breezy but calculating fashion that it would cost more than $600 million.

Analysts figured it was doomed to fail. No Vegas casino had ever posted the revenues necessary to pay for the casino Wynn planned. Well, Wynn was right and the skeptics took long looks at the formula for the success of the most expensive casino resort ever built at that time.

What they found was The Mirage included a number of cash registers or attractions that had nothing to do with the slots and gaming tables except for the fact they were all under the same roof.

The focus was on entertainment, which included the price of everything from high-end retail shops to the Siegfried and Roy show. From the beginning, non-casino revenue was important to the success.

Flash forward nearly 40 years to the present time and the elements that are evident in the planning for Wynn’s latest project, a Disneyesque venture to be known as Paradise Park. Wynn first discussed it publicly more than a year ago when the shape of the future was less certain than it is now.

Why is this a good time to get serious about an entertainment project?

Part of the answer is the fact the uncertain picture of a year or so ago has benefitted from the actions of other interests. These actions include the sale by Carl Icahn of the unfinished project that was originally to be known as the Fontainebleau just north of the Wynn properties. Icahn bought the unfinished building in a bankruptcy court auction after the original owner ceased construction in 2009. There had never been an indication Icahn would finish it. His apparent intention was to sell it to someone else, which is what he did earlier this year.

The giant resort of a Malaysian company that remains unfinished on the opposite side of the Strip from the two Wynn hotels has been another good reason to plan and spend cautiously. But the picture of improving confidence suggests Las Vegas is headed for a satisfying spurt of growth. No one wants to assume anything about how consumers will be spending their let’s-go-have-some-fun money, but the signs definitely are pointing toward better times.

The significant energy and creative spending MGM has invested in major projects that will contribute to Southern Nevada’s future have clearly earned a major assist for years to come. The T-Mobile Arena and the football stadium represent the kind of spending that have already spurred casino companies to keep looking ahead with confidence at the possibilities.

It will take Wynn Resorts about two years to complete Paradise Park – whatever the final name may be. That means it could be open and doing business about the time the Raiders begin playing games in their new $2 billion stadium. By then Vegas may also have a deal with an NBA team. It’s safe to speculate the development will benefit from the presence of Wynn’s casino in the Boston area. He has pointed out that the best Vegas companies have been competing with themselves for years as commercial gaming has spread.

Paradise Park also underscores the ability of Wynn Resorts to continue growing with ideas that don’t involve partnerships.

“We have to keep looking for new ideas,” former Caesars World chairman Henry Gluck told me during a conversation several years ago when he was making the point that craps tables and lots of slots were no longer enough.

Such possibilities would have been greeted with an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it laugh not so many years ago.

It was casino owner Jackie Gaughan who told me the most successful slots are those surrounded by the “most interesting stuff.”

We have arrived at a time when the list of interesting stuff has been extended to items that tell us the list may be limited only by the imagination of people with money to spend.