Steve Wynn charms audience in WGCE keynote

October 23, 2001 9:12 AM


Steve Wynn hit the stage for the 15th annual World Gaming Congress Expo wearing a surgical mask on his mouth as a sign of defiance, not fear.

“I won’t be intimidated,” Wynn told a standing-room only crowd at the Venetian’s C2K as Friday’s keynote speaker. “There are too many news shows airing too many talking heads interviewing too many people who don’t know what to say. It’s not like terrorists are the only group angry at the National Inquirer.”

Wynn was upbeat in the face of uncertainty for Las Vegas and the nation since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The icon entrepreneur had no intentions of backing off from his highly-anticipated Le Rêve resort, explaining how and why Las Vegas will retain its stature as entertainment capital of the world.

“This is a sad time with all these layoffs,” he said. “People don’t feel like partying in a town that lives for the party, but we get over it. The Asians will be back. People who bet $1 million at baccarat are not easily intimidated.”

Regarding the recent casino layoffs of employees, Wynn said he respected the decision of his fellow CEOs but indicated he would have taken another route.

“There would have to be a pistol at my nose before I laid people off,” he said. “But I never faced what my friends had to face. These people (owners) are pretty smart.”

Wynn was cautious about revealing too much about his new mega-resort, but acknowledged it would include two major theaters (one seating 1,500) with separate multi-million dollar presentations.

“One show will be the fantasy filled, the stuff of dreams,” he said. “It won’t be like Peter Pan, but an idea straight from the Himalayans that people will really enjoy and remember.”

Wynn said Le Rêve will have public bonds, but will be a private company. Unlike lavish Wynn creations like the Mirage and Bellagio with its volcanoes, pirate ships, dancing waters, Le Reve will be a resort about Las Vegas.

“There will be great shopping such at Nordstroms added to Fashion Square Mall, so that’s covered, although we have invited Chanel and Christian Dior,” he said. “We are bringing in Balthesar from Soho (New York) but we want another 5-star restaurant with Las Vegas roots, such as the two (Renoir, Picasso) at Mirage and Bellagio.”

The implosion of the Desert Inn was scheduled to take place Monday, according to Wynn, who re-emphasized his desire to push forward in spite of the sluggish economy.

“My business is all about taking risks,” said Wynn, who turns 60 in January. “I’ve done it ever since arriving in Las Vegas 37 years ago. I am a student of Las Vegas history and I can tell you that struggles like this have existed in every decade.

“There are two types of owners in the hotel and casino industry — showmen and the businessmen/accountants,” Wynn continued. “The showmen always blitz them because this town is about entertainment and taking risks. When I backed “O” at the Bellagio, I was in for $102 million on the first show. If it failed, it was death. I love Kirk Kerkorian (MGM-Mirage chairman) and especially the $6.7 billion he gave me.”

Wynn told the crowd that he was proud to be part of the aura entertainment brings to town.

“This town has never been about the gambling,” he said. “There’s gambling everywhere. It’s about the show. There will always be someone wanting to take chances and keep Las Vegas from becoming corporate. I have always been able to face the possibility of failure.

“It was frightening to build Mirage in 1987 because it like spitting and hitting the floor,” he said. “There had never been a 3,000-room hotel. Bellagio was our time and place. We wanted to be No. 1 and 2 in the market. Le Rêve is being built with Bellagio as a model, but Las Vegas in the mind. This is about our town. No conception this time.”

Wynn said 240 employees presently work at his company.

“Employees are what make people come back to the hotels,” he said. “I talk to them all and plan to keep them all. I believe the other hotels will bring their employees back as things improve.”