Early casino execs had panache not seen now

Apr 21, 2009 5:05 PM
Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener |

The 60 Minutes conversation with Steve Wynn that netted the resort boss invaluable free time on national television underscored a glaring deficiency in the Las Vegas resort industry.

There is a distressing lack of colorful personalities at the top levels of gaming. Yes, we’ve about exhausted Steve’s ability to serve up compelling doses of insight and the outrageous sound bites we’ve come to take for granted whenever he gets in front of a television camera.

Listening to Steve sound like the smartest on the block has been known to make his competitors throw ash trays or turn green with envy . . . sometimes both. But watching Steve and interviewer Charlie Rose get close up and personal, it was clear we’ve heard it all – well, most of it, before.

It’s time for others to step up and add some fresh perspectives to the pictures visiting cameras share with national and global audiences.

Never mind that MGM’s Jim Murren and Harrah’s CEO Gary Loveman have their hands full for the moment trying to save their respective companies from sinking into the murky depths of bankruptcy filings.

The thing is, though, they are examples of managers who appear to prefer conversations about cash flows and the intricate machinery of multi-niche marketing, making sure the light always reflects nicely off those healthy (hopefully) EBITDA margins.

Can’t fault them for that, but it is not what the Charlie Roses of the world are looking for when they visit the Strip.

I wonder if Gary and Jim could be persuaded to loosen up, kick back, relax a little and project, a come-on-out-and-visit-us-sometime kind of attitude, all in the name of projecting a personality useful to success in the hospitality business.

But let’s see … what are the other possibilities?

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Sheldon Adelson is a super capable pit bull of a businessman but a sense of humor and an easy going, engaging personality? No, I don’t think so.

Palms owner George Maloof might be able to get the job done as a personality with a capital "P" but he seems a bit reserved, almost shy. And those Playboy parties, they probably keep him busy.

The most interesting of all the disclosures dragged out of Wynn by interviewer Charlie Rose was that Wynn has found the advice of the Dali Lama helpful in dealing with his anger management issues.

Wynn will clearly not be settling for a local $300 an hour shrink to help him through the complicated dynamics of inter-personality issues.

Which got me wondering: Does the Dali Lama have a credit line at the Wynn casinos? Don’t laugh, I’ve imagined Osama Bin Laden working in a ZZ Top impersonator band. It’s already been proven many times that famous people the world over occasionally succumb to the lure of a Las Vegas get-away. Gambler friends have confided that a hot hand at a craps table can be a liberating, even spiritual experience.

But getting back to Rose’s conversation with Wynn and the latter’s half-hearted effort at modesty as Rose all but credited him with inventing the concept of "entertainment architecture" as it defines modern Las Vegas.

Wynn is clearly Las Vegas gaming’s single biggest creative influence over the last 20-25 years, a period that dates back to his decision to build The Mirage when he took dead aim at the hold Caesars Palace then had on the top end of the market.

The Mirage generated a lot of "wows," but 20-plus years earlier the late Jay Sarno had produced the same reaction when he gave the world Caesars Palace in 1966 and followed up with Circus Circus. A few years later Kirk Kerkorian brought the glamour and spectacle of Hollywood to Las Vegas with his first MGM Grand, the largest casino in the world in the early 1970s.

What Wynn has contributed is remarkable but he scarcely invented Las Vegas glamour.

Too bad Rose could not have brought the 60 Minutes’ appetite for a hard-hitting interview to Las Vegas 30 years earlier.

He might have sat down for a round table chat with the likes of Benny Binion, Sarno, Sam Boyd, Jackie Gaughan, Si Redd, Kerkorian, Cliff Perlman and their banker for all seasons, E. Parry Thomas, to name a few, all of them creative influences who were strutting their best stuff then.

Rose might have let them growl at each other and wander here and there with their thoughts, rattling off well-practiced anecdotes about life in the gambling business.

It would have been interesting to hear what they might have had to say about a young Steve Wynn struggling to strike it rich on Fremont Street.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Phil Hevener