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Wynn christens Encore resort with optimism

Dec 23, 2008 5:05 PM
Staff & Wire Reports |

More than 20 years ago, GamingToday founder Chuck Di Rocco dubbed Steve Wynn the "Magic Man," and the label has stuck over the years.

With the opening of his newest resort, Encore, Wynn will need every bit of his wizardry as the Las Vegas Strip is in the midst of a full-blown recession, complete with potential bankruptcies and free-falling stock prices.

The $2.3 billion, 2,000-suite hotel-casino, which is attached to the three-year-old Wynn Las Vegas on the Strip, debuted Monday night at a moment when Las Vegas is gripped in its worst downturn in decades.

But Wynn the entrepreneurial magician is confident that he’ll weather the storm.

"I don’t owe a dime personally, and the company’s solid as a rock," said Wynn, 66, chief executive and president of Wynn Resorts Ltd. "That’s why we were just named to the S&P 500. We’re not at risk here. We’re very lucky."

Wynn Resorts, which also has the 600-room Wynn Macau in China and plans to open a 400-room expansion called Encore Macau by Christmas 2009, has certainly suffered in the downturn.

Yet whereas the company has lost about half of its stock value this year, Wall Street analysts peg Wynn as a winner, despite the potential of an Encore performance to an empty house.

"Wynn has the best balance sheet of all the casino operators right now," said Bill Lerner, a gaming industry analyst for Deutsche Bank, which has financed several Wynn projects in recent years. "That’s really a function of the more judicious and more cautious about development than his peers and not building any more than he could afford to."

Judicious and cautious were words few would have applied to Wynn a decade ago as he finished the $1.6 billion Bellagio, then the world’s most expensive hotel.

In his follow-up to the landmark Mirage, which heralded the Strip’s 1990s spree of themed mega-resorts, Wynn spent so lavishly on luxurious details that Wall Street disapproved and the stock price fell to a point that enabled Kirk Kerokorian to buy him out.

But not even Wynn’s biggest critics dispute he is gifted at creating places of entertainment.

After Kerkorian’s buyout, he bought the failing Desert Inn and replaced it with the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas, a bronze, curved resort that abandoned his own prior model of providing an eye-popping spectacle.

For the Wynn, he created a light and water show intended primarily for guests. And now, with Encore, Wynn said he’s striving for as much intimacy and elegance as a 2,000-suite tower can offer, cutting up the casino into smaller sections for cozier spaces and appointing the property with unusual adornments from red tiger eye tabletops to banana-fiber wall weavings.

The closest thing to Vegas razzle-dazzle is the restaurant Switch, where three different sets of walls alternate.

"Everywhere you go, there’s this wonderful play on texture and quality," Wynn said. "After Wynn, there was nothing left for us to do but the basics better."

Wynn adds that he’s going to let the experience of Encore speak for itself. He said he cannot control the economy, but he said he can control the quality of stay.

Work crews scurried to get Encore ready for the public. Wynn talks about the project as if were a living work of art.

"I don’t think that I have ever been as proud of a hotel as I am this time," he said. "Here at Encore, we have taken advantage of that same mentality and gone further in using natural light and gardens and plants."

Inside Encore you can sit at a blackjack table and look at the pool outside. Wynn said the decisions made inside Encore were learned from the other hotel casinos he built. He said there would not be a Bellagio without a Mirage, and there would not be an Encore without a Wynn.

"Encore stands as an example of evolution of a progressive development of our own discovery and market tastes that have changed," he said.

That shift in mentality can be seen in the nightclub. Wynn historically has not been a fan of that type of nightlife. He embraced it inside Encore, calling clubs a $600 million business.

"Because the young people today want to be part of the show, they don’t want to watch it," he said.

The bottom line to keep his business going, Wynn said, will be his employees feeling secure in their jobs, making a good working environment and giving the guest a great experience, "The word will get out that this is the best hotel whatever the economy is. We will do better than our neighbors."

His favorite part is the new Italian restaurant called Sinatra. The music will feature Sinatra introducing the songs – tape from Wynn’s collection. Wynn knew Ol’ Blue Eyes. Sinatra’s family loaned Wynn his Oscar for From Here to Eternity and one of his Emmys.

Wynn said lately he’s been in his office holding them, listening to his favorite Sinatra songs.

During a tour of Encore, Wynn took a call from Clint Eastwood, praising the actor’s work in the new film "Gran Torino," and asking about the cold Eastwood suffered on his last visit.

Still, commoners delight him, too.

Near the end of that resort tour, Wynn stopped a teen to check if the wheels on his sneakers could harm the floor’s tile mosaic.

"Who are you?" the boy’s father asked.

"I just work here," Wynn answered with a toothy grin.

Others in the hall had none of it.

"Hey, man, that’s the owner," one man said. "He’s the only person who matters in Vegas."

Wynn blushed and posed for pictures.

"I gotta go, fellas," he said eventually. "I’m very busy. I’ve got a new hotel to open."

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