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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson
 

Jeff Simpson talks to an upbeat Steve Wynn about good times for his resort properties

4 December 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Steve Wynn was feeling very good about Wynn Resorts when I met with him last week at Wynn Las Vegas.

In a two-and-a-half hour interview, we discussed how his company is doing in Las Vegas and Macau, and Wynn's plans for the future, among other things.

Wynn Las Vegas continues to perform exceptionally well.

Acknowledging that initial reviews of his $2.7 billion resort were mixed, Wynn said that people have grown to love his hotel.

"Our average room rates are climbing, and we're getting a lot of repeat business," he said. "Some of the first impressions weren't as dramatic as those at Bellagio, but I relied on our guests' ability to perceive subtlety. I knew it wouldn't be the initial impact that mattered but the accumulation of experiences.

"My question before we opened was: Would they bother? If they bothered they'd find those special places. You don't live in the lobby. What we've found is the public responds well to the notion of intimacy."

Wynn is continually fine-tuning his resort. He's redone some restaurants, tinkered with the production show "Le Reve" and dropped one Broadway smash, "Avenue Q," in favor of another, "Monty Python's Spamalot," which previews in March.

When nightclub La Bete opened poorly, Wynn brought in club impresario Victor Drai to turn the space around.

The renamed Tryst has been a smashing success, Wynn says.

"It's the single most successful nightclub in America," Wynn said. Wynn spent $3.5 million to remodel the club, and Drai has turned the nightspot into the city's hottest club.

"We don't pay celebrities to attend - no airline tickets, no nothing," Wynn said. "We're on track to make $33 million at Tryst this year. Victor did it. We make about $600,000 a week, with a 70 percent profit margin. We net more than we thought we'd gross, and we do it in about 25 hours a week."

That success is turning out to be lucrative for Drai, who Wynn says will make about $6 million or $7 million on his share of Tryst profits this year.

Next summer Wynn and Drai will make another refinement, integrating the property's fine Japanese restaurant Okada and its spectacular views with Tryst.

Another big change Wynn has in store is replacing the property's ultralounge, Lure.

In a deal similar to the Drai/Tryst arrangement, Wynn is bringing in James Sinclair, who operates Element, a hot Los Angeles club that captures an A-list celebrity crowd. The new club will be named "Vanity - The Original Sin," and will open in January or February.

Wynn didn't want to publicly reveal much about the club other than to say it will reinvent the Las Vegas ultralounge.

"It's a very exciting concept that doesn't exactly exist right now. I think Las Vegas will get a kick out of it," Wynn said.

Construction on Wynn Las Vegas' sister property Encore has hit its stride, Wynn said. The hotel tower is now on its fifth floor, and the contractor expects to add another floor every week or so. The tower will eventually be 50 floors, 48 of them hotel rooms.

Wynn says he's targeting an early December 2008 opening date for Encore.

In Macau, where Wynn spends about one week per month and expects to spend more than that as Wynn operations there expand, business is exceeding expectations, he said.

Table game play has been strong, and longtime Wynn/Mirage Resorts customers from Asia are not only coming to play but are sending their friends and acquaintances to gamble as well.

Wynn is tinkering to optimize Wynn Macau's performance as well. Baccarat tables are being added and a couple of fan tan tables are being replaced by sic bo games.

"Nothing we're doing there is anything but common sense," Wynn said. "We're learning and trying to adopt a more enlightened approach. We shouldn't be afraid to try new things."

One eye-opener: Wynn said his slot machines are winning $460-$480 per machine, per day. That's why he's adding 500 devices to the 390 he opened with in September.

"I predict slot machines in Macau will become as powerful a force in the market as they are in Las Vegas," he said, a shocking forecast given the traditional table-game focus of Macau casinos.

Wynn has had a couple of surprises on the food front. Quick serve food outlets, except for Starbucks, have not done well, and are being removed in favor of slot machines. But the property's high-end Chinese, Japanese and Italian restaurants have thrived, producing average check sizes that have wowed Wynn and his staff.

Wynn said the recent opening of the Galaxy StarWorld casino had not hurt Wynn Macau business at all, and he expects his property's market share to continue to climb.

Jeff Simpson is business editor of the Sun and executive editor of its sister publication In Business Las Vegas. He can be reached at 259-4083 or simpson@lasvegassun.com.