What Keeps Steve up at Night?

These are trying times.  A large segment of the population is very anxious about its economic future. The economy is recovering, but the progress is slow.  The ups and downs of oil prices, the stock market and employment help increase stress.  Islamist extremists in the Middle East, chest pounding in North Korea and the European immigration crisis are all bad for blood pressure.  And to top it all off, the presidential campaign has been bizarre. All of these factors add to the national angst; it is enough to disturb a person’s sleep.

I rarely have trouble sleeping and almost never do any thinking in the middle of the night.  However, I know that some very successful people do creative thinking, while most people are sleeping. It works for them, but it simply exhausts me.  A recent article in the Las Vegas Sun makes me think Steve Wynn may be one of those late night thinkers.  In an interview with Robin Leach, Wynn said, “…The issue of scale, though, was making me lose sleep until I came up with the fantasy island concept.”  Mr. Wynn is in the process of creating a new property.  It will very likely change Las Vegas once again.

Wynn plans a centerpiece “fantasy island” in the new Crystal Lagoons beachfront paradise he is building from his Wynn and Encore golf club. Steve told me that he’d been up nights unable to sleep trying to deal with the “problem of scale” at the 38-acre lagoon. Steve thinks he’s now solved it with another entertainment attraction within the overall 130-acre entertainment attraction, hotel, casino, nightlife and restaurant zone. Robin Leach, Las Vegas Sun 5-3-16

Steve Wynn is off being Steve Wynn again by redefining casinos and the Strip.  Apparently that means losing sleep while he dreams a conscious dream; Wynn Las Vegas was originally called Le Reve – the dream in French.  Maybe that name came to him in the middle of a sleepless night just as the fantasy island concept did.  Mr. Wynn seems to do some serious thinking when the rest of us are asleep and that might be part of his secret.

The casino mogul said the lake had been extended some 600 feet and that in the middle of it would be “a mountain, an island” eight to ten stories tall featuring “irregular topography” and twin peaks connected by a rope bridge…“cabanas and other special effects platforms” built into the side, a “beach bar with white sand,” ferries in the lake and zip lines. Wynn said that at its current phase, the creative process for a project like Paradise Park was “very dynamic.” He indicated that his company had grand ambitions for the development. Las Vegas Sun, 5-5-16

 Over the course of the last forty years, I have changed the way I characterized Steve Wynn in my mind many times.  When I first heard him speak in the early 1980’s, he seemed like a really smart casino operator.  He was creative with financing, innovative with slot machine reward systems, daring in his bonuses to employees and simply brilliant in his use of Frank Sinatra.  When he sold the Golden Nugget to Bally for $400 million and left town, he became a magician.  And then when he started to build properties on the Strip including Mirage, Bellagio, Treasure Island, Wynn and Encore, he was the man who redefined Las Vegas and casinos.  However, his latest, Paradise Park as it is currently being called, may just take Steve Wynn and Las Vegas to a completely new level of achievement and excitement.

The Sun interview once again changed the way I think about Wynn.  Clearly he is much more than a casino executive; Steve Wynn is an artistic genius.   Listening to him talk about Paradise Park led me to compare Wynn with Michelangelo and Pablo Picasso rather than Bill Harrah, Sam Boyd or Benny Binion.  Wynn is able to imagine something that no one in the industry has ever dreamed of; like Picasso he seems to take the world apart and reassemble it in a unique way, or like Michelangelo he finds uncommon ways to do common things.

 In the beginning of Wynn’s casino career, he did what other casino operators and executives did, only he did it slightly better.  He seemed to understand his customers better than other executivesHis first casinos, the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, did not look much different than other casinos and offered the same amenities, but the execution was always better; it was better in the rooms, the restaurants, the table games and in Atlantic City, the slot machines.  But, when he moved onto the Las Vegas Strip, Steve became more than a casino operator, he became a visionary.  He began to envision resort environments that were unique – Wynnish, if you will.

The new project promises to elevate Wynn and Las Vegas once again; Paradise Park might just top everything else he has ever done.  That is fitting, because in the history of the casino industry Steve Wynn is unique, he is an artist who paints on immense canvases.  Always his creations turn out to be extremely valuable.  But the value is not immediately apparent to other, at least not until the financial results are released.  Analysts and industry observers have in the past doubted Wynn’s ability to succeed with a new project.  His creations cost billions of dollars and because of the cost and daring new and unique concepts involved, the properties are often seen as risky.  Of course, in the end Steve is always right and the doubters wrong.

That quality of uniqueness in a Wynn property makes me wonder about Wynn’s creative process.  I have heard two stories about Wynn and the creation of a new resort.  Both agree that Steve does not stop with the broad brush strokes, but immerses himself in every detail; in those stories he plans every element of a property down to the smallest piece and then checks over and over again to see that it is done correctly, always changing and refining the component pieces to perfect his vision.  In one account he used computer simulations to move around the property and look at each detail, constantly reworking everything.   In another version, Steve closes his eyes and looks at the vision in his mind; he then explains that vision to those who make the drawings and plans; it is a process that has to be repeated over and over until the designer gets it right and then of course, is verified in the execution.

Like Michelangelo, Steve has to hire thousands of people to do the work, but always under his watchful eye and always true to his vision.  So, while the rest of us may get a good night sleep, Steve Wynn is awake dreaming a better dream.  Creativity is what keeps him up at night.  The industry is always richer when one of Wynn’s sleepless nights’ excursions becomes a reality.  The industry has many very good developers and operators, but only one artist – Steve Wynn.  I can hardly wait to see Paradise Park.



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