Trump-Wynn match defies the odds

Oct 31, 2006 5:54 AM

Steve Wynn doesn’t want to get locked out of one of the hottest markets in the gaming business.

He’s convinced Atlantic City is the place to be ”¦ well, it’s one of them, with Las Vegas and Macau being the others, but Wynn already has those covered.

So, Wynn appears willing to forgive and forget, and possibly climb into a deal with former nemesis Donald Trump.

The recent East Coast stories that broke the sketchy details of their plan mostly ignored the history of their relationship, a history that had a number of industry insiders remembering when the two did not have a lot of nice things to say about each other.

The rhetoric they were known to fire at each other was positively explosive.

But that was then and here we are now.

Times and minds have changed. The Boardwalk has become a very hot market as prospective developers with access to all the capital they need look for the next right place to land.

Wally Barr, Kevin DeSanctis and Dan Lee are principals in separate projects that will focus billions of dollars in capital spending on the Boardwalk over the next several years.

Harrah’s also has big plans and other forces who are doing their best to stay below the radar for the moment are also looking for the right deal.

The success of Borgata has not been lost on any of them, particularly as New Jersey remains one of only three states with a business and tax climate that remains inviting to resort developers.

Lots of people believed Wynn had given up on Atlantic City. He had said during the last year or so that it was unlikely he would have any interest in operating another Atlantic City resort. He had sold his Golden Nugget in 1987 when the former Bally Manufacturing made him an offer he could not refuse. He took the money and headed for Las Vegas where he began assembling plans for what became The Mirage.

Wynn was on the verge of a return to Atlantic City in the late 1990s when he got city officials to agree to a once in a lifetime deal that saw those officials agree to deed him about 150 acres in the marina area for next to nothing in return for Wynn’s agreement to develop the property.

Trump growled and perhaps threw a telephone or two. He was one of the people who headed to court intent on trying to sidetrack the deal. Wynn’s thinking was that he would lead the development of three marina resorts IF the state could be persuaded to build a connector road from the expressway. The state did and Wynn went to work.

The marina land — the so-called H-tract — became part of MGM’s purchase of Wynn’s Mirage Resorts in early 2000.

Trump and Wynn did not see so much of each other, but all the bad feelings did not fade as Trump lured away two of Wynn’s senior executives — Dennis Gomes and Kevin De Sanctis.

Gomes’ agreement to run the Taj Mahal for Trump even became the basis of a lawsuit, generating affidavits and the kind of titillating gossip that can’t be repeated here.

Of course it all eventually went away as such things usually do when the emotion that fuels them begins to dissipate.

But now a partnership?

"It’s a marriage made in hell," smirked an executive who shared some thoughts on the condition he not be identified. "I can’t imagine it working. They’re so different. Wynn’s the businessman, Trump’s the showman."

De Sanctis, who is now planning his own Atlantic City resort, gave the Wynn-Trump partnership some thought before concluding, "It is definitely doable."

Really?

He grinned, "I didn’t say it was going to be easy but it is doable and it is only going to work for someone like Steve who does not care how much money he has to throw at it."

"Talk about unlikely bedfellows," said Resorts COO Roger Wagner who has spent years in Atlantic City.

A third similarly experienced industry veteran sputtered, "I saw the story and had a hard time taking it seriously. I can remember when Steve used to be like, uh, well”¦ the anti-Trump. He’d get offers to do TV commercials, just like Donald, and his reaction was always something like, no way. That’s the kind of thing Donald would do."

But perhaps Wynn has come to appreciate the value of a celebrity status that has since seen him put his own name on one of the Strip’s most exclusive resorts. There was a time when that would never have happened.

It was something Donald would have done.

Their discussions have focused on the possibilities associated with the Boardwalk Hall, the old Atlantic City convention center that dates back to the 1920s and is on the state’s registry of historic buildings, which means there is a certain amount of red tape associated with any effort to tear it down.

But seeing red is nothing new for these heavyweights. Now, it’s just a slightly different shade.