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Steve Wynn is nudging his vision of the entertainment business toward a new look as metropolitan areas that previously rejected casinos appear ready to embrace them as economic drivers of increased tax revenues, tourism and employment.

The Wynn Resorts chairman says his plan is based on a change of the historic emphasis.

As he was telling gaming analysts the other day, “I don’t trust slots in a box. That’s why I’ve never done a racino or a riverboat.”

He seemed to gather himself and peer toward the future as his company hopes to shape it. “But a hotel,” he said, “a place that has a full range of services that people learn to like, even people who don’t gamble but who live in the city and go to dinner. We make money in our restaurants, we get tremendous average rates.”

So what does this mean to Wynn?

Wynn made reference to the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons and other four and five star rated properties that get “hundreds and hundreds of dollars.” for a hotel room in major world cities from New York to London.

“We all know,” he said, “that it is uneconomical to build a wonderful new hotel in a (major) city today because of the cost of construction and the competitive room rates that prevail…

“But with the presence of a casino room adjacent to such a beautiful hotel,” letting this point sink in, “you can build the best hotel in Boston, the finest project that the state of Pennsylvania or the city of Philadelphia have ever seen.”

He’s focusing on the quality of entertainment options these projects would include; all of this in a hotel with an “adjacent” or “separate” casino, whatever this use of such adjectives eventually means.

Wynn returned to a point he has made in the past but which often seems to be overlooked by industry followers whose attention remains riveted on slot and table gamer volumes.

“It has always been the truth in our industry that the drivers are the non-casino attractions. The gaming area is at best a cash register.”

The power, he maintains, is in the experience people soak up when they are in the building. “There is nothing unique about a slot machine, or blackjack, craps and baccarat table.”

Wynn said he has spent months designing the concept of an “urban Wynn.” But the thinking that underlies this approach to the future has been apparent in projects that go back to his development of The Mirage, which opened in 1989. During the months before its debut, Wynn’s focus in public presentations was always on the entertainment architecture and the myriad non-gaming experiences inside the hotel. You had to get to about page five in an early Mirage press release to find any reference to the casino.

With respect to the possibilities for an “urban Wynn,” he does not say what he means by a casino that would be “adjacent to” or “separate from,” but his use of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts as examples of possible locations for an urban Wynn is understandable. These are states where casino gaming is legal.

He sees this approach working at some point in U.S. cities such as Houston, Chicago and Atlanta to name just a few. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a no-holds-barred advocate of a major casino resort that may be approved this spring.

Would Wynn ever build a total non-gaming hotel? His answer to that question – was a no, “with one or two possible exceptions,” although some sources have maintained he has a long term plan to do exactly that across mainland China.

His possible exceptions include London and New York.

“I relish the idea of having a new hotel in London. That city is one of the greatest places in the world for average daily rates. If I had the chance in Mayfair or the right location in London to build a hotel, I think I’d love to do it.”

And in London he could easily also apply for a gaming license and add a small cluster of baccarat and roulette tables.

When might any of this happen? When the time and place are right. Wynn did not offer details although he is interested in being part of the action as casino gaming takes root in Massachusetts and continues growing in Pennsylvania.

Casinos in major metropolitan areas of Texas and Florida are just a matter of time as Wynn looks to get ahead of a trend and declare, in effect, this is what he wants to do when the time is right, where it is right.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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