Steve’s Wynning Ways

Massachusetts is in a long, slow and tedious process of introducing casinos.  With the regulations in place, the selection process has begun; at stake are three casino licenses and one license for a slot parlor.  The state has been divided into three zones, each will get a casino.  Before the gaming commission awards the licenses, the prospective casino licensees have to convince the leaders of the communities where they would like to build a casino to accept their bid; and then they have to get the voters to support it.  After all of that and a background check, the gaming commission will decide who gets a license.
The process has lead to some pretty interesting competitions between the would-be licensees and some very elaborate presentations.  A billion dollars is about the minimum bid, so the question for the local officials and voters becomes what do we get for a billion dollars – or who do we get?  You might get Caesars, MGM, Foxwoods, Penn National, Hard Rock, Mohegan Sun or Steve Wynn. If I had a vote, I would vote for Steve Wynn.
Over the course of my career, I have heard Steve Wynn speak a few times; he is a magician, charmer and a spellbinder; if you will pardon the pun, he is a winner.  Every time Steve makes a presentation, one can anticipate hearing something new and exciting.  Steve has his own take on subjects, issues and problems in casino operations and design; problems the rest of us think have been solved and that the solutions are perfect. I have never been disappointed by him.  As a casino designer and developer, Steve Wynn is unique, he does not copy others.  He leads the way and the others follow him.
Steve Wynn is a great speaker; on stage or in an interview, he knows his subject.  He talks as if he were sitting around the table with friends after dinner.  It is an atmosphere of “we are just friends here” and in that atmosphere he shares.  He shares little bits of information in a very casual and normal tone.  But the information is anything but causal and normal; it is often earth shattering news for the rest of the gaming industry.  Twice in Atlantic City I heard him tell stories about the way he used Frank Sinatra to create private parties that made millions of dollars for the casino. You could have heard a pin drop when he was telling the story and when he got the punch-line – the money-line in this case – there was a very loud collective gasp from the audience.
In Everett, Massachusetts, on May 10th, 2013; Wynn proposed the Wynn Everett, a $1.5 billion resort and casino.  On that day, Steve was vintage Steve, dropping little bits of information into his grand story – the story of Wynn’s success story and the way he designs a resort. As part of the background to his successes in Las Vegas, Steve mentioned two related facts.  Wynn’s hotels and other non-gaming sources of revenue produced more revenue than other hotel/casinos; Wynn Las Vegas did $770 million in casino revenues and $850 million in other revenues; and over 70 percent of his customers come from outside the United States. Steve casually mentioned that all of his resorts, both in Las Vegas and Macau have a Forbes 5-star rating – better than any other company in the world.  He also said that his resorts in Las Vegas have always set records for the largest grossing casinos in the state of Nevada.
And then he launched into the design story, first giving a primer on resort financing.  He said the days of “grand hotels” in major cities had passed; the cost of building such hotels has gone too high and room revenue is just not enough to make the grand hotel possible.  However, he said, with a casino attached to the hotel, then it is doable; the cash flow from the casino makes it possible.  Wynn promised to bring to the Boston area a world class resort that would attract visitors from around the world; a grand hotel on steroids.
And then Steve Wynn, the developer, the dreamer, the visionary told his real story – building a resort. His ambition is to build places for human experiences, both for the employees and the customers: “For the last 800 million years the energy of the sun, water and plants has been the story of life on this planet.  I stick pretty close to those fundamental forces of life – light, water and plants; we use those fundamental elements of life in our designs.”  Steve talked for half an hour about the marvelous resort he would build for the people of Everett, one that would draw people from around the world and never mentioned the casino he would build; his only casino references were when he talked about his successes and the economics of hotel construction.
Now, that I think about it, Steve never talks about his casinos directly; the casino is always just the backdrop to the story of his evolving vision of a resort.  “People never get on an airplane and fly to a casino; casinos are all the same and they have become commodities.  I have been in the business for 40 years and I cannot tell one slot machine from another,” Steve told his audience in Massachusetts. According to Wynn they get on a plane to experience something new, something different, something energizing.  He says developing a property like that is his life’s work.
In interviews before the openings of Belagio, Wynn and Encore he essentially said the same thing; “I am learning and my concepts are evolving.  I could not have built what I am building today ten or even five years ago.”  He repeated that again in Massachusetts.  That is what I think is different about Steve Wynn.  He has never settled into a business- as-usual way of thinking; he is never satisfied.  In another interview, he said, “Ever since I was a kid I have wanted to build something that made people go “wow!”  that strikes me as the coolest thing in the world to do.  I need to build one more hotel and maybe I will get it right.”
The majority of his competitors are more content or they are simply focused on something different; they focus on bottom lines, CEO stock options and the next quarter’s conference call and they avoid risk.  Wynn says it takes a two or three years to design a new property and two or three years to build it; the process is expensive and risky.  Each new property is always a stretch and a risk – but that is something he is always willing to do, to take a risk.  Risk is not a popular corporate word. But Wynn is not a very corporate guy.  It is a long way to the  finish line, but if Steve Wynn succeeds in winning a license, the people of Massachusetts will be treated a one-of-a-kind developer doing everything he can to create magic.   And of course make a little money along the way.


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