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Gaming Guru

Tony Cook
 

Latest in Strip squabble, Wynn to Adelson: Take that

14 December 2007

Conflicts between neighbors are not uncommon. Living in close quarters often fuels disputes over the most mundane things - overgrown shrubbery, ratty porch furniture, the broken-down Chevy in the neighbor's driveway.

The same holds true even when those neighbors happen to be billionaires. The financial stakes just involve a lot more zeros.

Case in point: Next-door neighbors Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson are again butting heads over the seemingly dull issue of parking spaces. The difference between your average neighborhood spat and this one, however, is that when these two Strip titans clash, the entire political infrastructure of Clark County is rattled.

The issue surfaced during last week's county zoning meeting. Adelson's company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., wants to build a new convention center behind its existing Sands Expo and Convention Center. The company pitched the 1.7 ¯million-square-foot project as being in conjunction with its other developments, which include the Palazzo and the Venetian, county officials said.

The "in conjunction" factor would qualify the center for a parking standard of at least one spot for every 1,000 square feet. Thus the company planned 1,865 parking spots in a parking garage beneath the proposed convention center. County staff had recommended approval of the plans and commissioners needed only to sign off on them. Everything seemed hunky-dory.

Enter Adelson's pesky neighbor, Mr. Wynn.

Wynn's attorney wrote a letter to the district attorney's office a week before the zoning meeting. Their argument: The proposed convention center was not in conjunction with Adelson's resorts, and thus required a parking ratio of two spots for every 1,000 square feet. That's almost double what Adelson had planned and could make the project much more expensive.

What did Wynn use to back up his argument? He owns a parking garage between the proposed convention center and Adelson's other projects, a physical contradiction of Adelson's contention that the new center is "in conjunction" with his other properties.

The district attorney's office agreed with Wynn and the county commissioners delayed their vote.

That doesn't necessarily mean Adelson can't have the smaller number of parking spots. But after he decided not to contest the district attorney's interpretation, he was forced to file for a waiver. And that, in turn, means that commissioners would have to approve a 50 percent reduction from the normal parking standard.

The issue will be heard again Dec. 19.

Although the delay can be seen as a temporary victory for Wynn, his maneuvering didn't sit well with Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, whose district includes the proposed convention center.

"With no disrespect, I don't think it should go to the DA for them to make a determination on what our staff has already recommended," she said. "If there is an issue, I will set up the meeting and facilitate it. If it is an issue of staff's interpretation, it should be done in a public meeting, not in the way it was handled."

Regardless of who is right, this most recent quarrel between the two casino moguls just proves it's only a slight exaggeration to say that when Steve Wynn can't find a parking spot, all of Southern Nevada gets a taste of his road rage. And a headache.

In the past, Wynn has accused Adelson of cutting corners on parking requirements at the Venetian and various expansions, resulting in Venetian guests or employees clogging garages at Wynn Las Vegas and other hotels. So Wynn began inserting himself in the county approval processes for Adelson's projects.

Their previous skirmishes have become so heated that both men have publicly called each other liars. Adelson has even said: "I think he's just got a thing about a building ending up taller than his ... Everybody knows Steve Wynn has a big ego."

As in this new fight, the disputes often drag county planners, commissioners and others into the fray.

Former County Commissioner Myrna Williams represented the district until this year.

"It was a nightmare," she said. "I'm glad I'm not there. I don't miss it."

She lamented the amount of time the county spends refereeing the issues.

"It does take up a lot of time," she said. "I think this is pretty unique. I can't recall this kind of problem related to parking places between any two hotels."

In the gaming industry, the seemingly unending - and personal - feud often elicits chuckles.

"They are big babies - both of them," said one gaming executive familiar with the disputes. "Someone didn't spank them enough when they were young."

A former consultant to Wynn called it "an ongoing high-end soap opera."

At the county, the chuckles are often nervous ones.

"They are always trying to sabotage each other," one county official said with a sigh. "It is funny that they behave that way."