Are we bringing the Moon to Las Vegas?

Oct 22, 2002 6:05 AM

I don’t spend much time worrying about where the Andy Fastows and Ken Lays and Jeffrey Skillings of this world wind up, although I know where I wish they would wind up. I do worry, though, about where all the little people who were wiped out because of them wind up, and those stories really need to be written one of these days.

I also muse about the whereabouts of lesser executive lights caught in the web of restated profits and balance sheets, and it did not surprise me to discover that one of them wound up in the capital of excess, Las Vegas, last week.

Michael Henderson is a Las Vegas kind of guy. He is handsome, in a Las Vegas sort of way, and he thinks big, sort of a Steve Wynn without money, or at least without enough of it to do what he dreams about doing.

He held a news conference at the Four Seasons, and it was wild enough to be duly reported in the city’s press that he came to Vegas with a 20-minute videotape and a model that supposedly cost a cool million, looking for a soulmate with zillions to build the Moon.

Moon, in Henderson’s view, would be the world’s biggest and most lavish hotel. It would have 10,000 rooms — twice as many as the MGM Grand and three times as many as Bellagio — and would have craters filled with entertainment and thousands of shops and a 60,000-seat arena and the world’s largest convention center and helicopter pads and presumably, although Henderson did not mention it, thousands of scantily clad waitresses and showgirls, helping the city’s employment situation dramatically.

It would cover 250 acres, somewhere in the city, and would cost a cool $5 billion to build. It would, Henderson said, be the most expensive resort ever built.

Some Vegas-watchers did not treat Michael Henderson too kindly.

University of Nevada professor Bill Thompson, who covers the casino beat, called Henderson a huckster, and said serious Las Vegans don’t buy from hucksters. A little on the trite side, he said Thompson was just running his idea up a flagpole, and even triter, added, "But on one will salute." And then Thompson ridiculed the press, calling us naïve for giving Henderson publicity on Moon, adding that "people are bored with the moon. We don’t even go there anymore. It’s over."

One of the guys Thompson criticized was Jeff Simpson of the Review-Journal, who gave the Henderson press conference full coverage. While Henderson’s Moon concept may be wild and implausible, his career, as reported by Simpson, is equally so.

Henderson did not call himself a huckster, but he did admit to being "a salesman, a marketer." He must be a damn good one.

As profiled by Simpson, Henderson dropped out of high school in his native Northern Ireland, became a successful car salesman (naturally) and wound up as president of a Belfast home design studio. Then, after moving to Canada, he became a sales manager for Ikea, worked for a pest control company, and wound up in Vancouver where he and an eye surgeon formed the company that became Lasik Vision. Henderson took charge and it grew to 31 eye surgery clinics. And then, two years ago, a month before an outside auditor suggested the company restate its quarterly report by reducing revenue $2 million, Henderson left, selling his stock for millions and heading for the Moon.

You may not want your daughter to marry a guy like this (or on the other hand you may) but you have to acknowledge that he is a hustler as well as a huckster. He does not quit easily, and he told Simpson that he still thinks one of Vegas’ casino operators "will fall in love with this concept" and decide to build Moon.

Bill Eadington, who runs the Institute for the Study of Gambling at the University of Nevada, thinks something else is more likely to happen. He thinks that if any of the casino operators think Henderson’s Moon shot is worthwhile, they’ll simply steal it.

That, given the present ethical state of business, would not only be ironic, but would be the American Way.