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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Amateur Cameras Scoop Wynn Las Vegas Photos

29 April 2005

And Chris Jones

LAS VEGAS -- So much for Vanity Fair's exclusive on the first photographic images from inside the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas. The high-end monthly magazine has been scooped by Joann Stabile of New York City.

Sitting at a video poker machine near the resort's garden atrium, Stabile posed for a photo on her palm-size digital camera taken by her friend Camille Raccuglia shortly after the 2,716-room hotel-casino opened at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

The women also showed off a digital image of Wynn Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn, taken outside near the property's Las Vegas Boulevard South marquee as it displayed the countdown to the megaresort's opening.

"We saw Steve Wynn," they shouted with glee. The camera also had other images of the property's lush interior.

The pair were staying at Paris Las Vegas when they read news accounts of the casino's grand unveiling. "We were so close, how could we miss it?" Raccuglia said.

Stabile wasn't alone in marking the opening of the Strip's first new resort in five years.

Several thousand people -- some who had stood outside for up to eight hours -- flooded into Wynn Las Vegas when the barriers came down.

Many had digital cameras, cell phone cameras and palm-size camcorders, recording what they saw as they moved throughout the property's public areas.

Visitors flocked immediately to an area near the $130 million man-made mountain to watch one of several four-minute multimedia shows on the Lake of Dreams, which is projected on a waterfall screen backdrop. Camera flashes could be seen reflecting off the lake.

Wynn Las Vegas had banned still photography and video coverage by the media of the casino areas and the hotel side of the mountain until after Vanity Fair published its exclusive look inside the resort next week.

Recently, the hotel public relations department began distributing canned images of the property to newspapers and television stations.

With amateur shutterbugs recording every reachable amenity, attraction and experience at Wynn Las Vegas, images, no doubt, quickly began zooming through cyberspace onto Web sites and into e-mail in-boxes.

Guests who had waited to see the most expensive hotel-casino on the Strip didn't just take photos.

A vast majority rushed to the casino as gambling began just after the doors opened. By 1 a.m., the lines to sign up for the player's club card were 15 deep.

"I heard the machines are pretty loose on opening night," said Joyce Sladen of Boston, who was staying at the Tropicana but ventured up the Strip for the festivities.

"We were here about a month ago, but we wanted to be back for the opening," Sladen said.

Every seat in the 27-table poker room, which sat empty before midnight, was filled by 1:30 a.m. Professional poker champion Daniel Negraneu, a darling of the televised poker genre, was surrounded like a celebrity icon, posing for photos with fans.

At the hotel's gift shop, employees tried to entice customers into purchasing Wynn Las Vegas T-shirts with the grand opening date of April 28, 2005, on the back for $30 each.

A crowd of watchers filled the high-end gaming room, craning their necks to view a blackjack player who wanted to wager only $100 chips at $1,000 a hand. His teetering stack of black chips was nearly a foot tall.

Minutes after the public was allowed inside, a young blonde woman turned heads by clapping and shouting, "I won! I won!" Sure enough, her $1 reel slot machine flashed the necessary triple sevens, and others gathered around her seat to determine what had caused the commotion.

Despite the apparent big winner's excitement, a nearby bettor scoffed after he glanced at the woman's machine.

"She won a hundred bucks," the man said, rolling his eyes at the woman's perceived overreaction.

Jose Lopez of Houston was making his first trip to Las Vegas, for employment training, when he found out that the resort was opening.

"I thought it would be kind of cool to attend," Lopez said, sitting at a slot machine. "I figured when could I ever experience something like this again."

Jess Lefkowitz of North Kingstown, R.I., was driving to another hotel late Wednesday evening when he looked toward the marquee at Wynn Las Vegas.

"I saw the sign go three, two, one, so I pulled right into the garage," he said of the marquee's electronic countdown. "I saw all of the people standing in line and didn't think I'd get in, but here I am."

Lefkowitz hoped to quickly turn one stroke of good fortune into another.

"I want to be in one of the first games they're going to spread," he said before walking to the resort's poker room.

Jake Solis, a lifelong Las Vegan who works at the Palms, raced over to Wynn Las Vegas when his shift ended. After watching the brief show in the Lake of Dreams, Solis said he was impressed. "It looks a lot like the Bellagio, only more elegant," he said.

Wynn Las Vegas opened to the public just as a private, black-tie charity gala was winding down. For a while, average folks rubbed shoulders at the gaming tables with the elite.

More than 2,000 guests paid either $7,500 or $1,500 to sample cuisine from the resort's signature restaurants, view the premiere of "Le Reve" and check out the property's unique features before the masses arrived. The comments were universally positive.

"It's special. It takes Las Vegas up another notch," said Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid.

"Magnificent and unbelievable," said International Game Technology Chairman TJ Matthews.

Bob Maheu, the former front man for multimillionaire Howard Hughes, who once owned the Desert Inn where Wynn Las Vegas now sits, said Wynn did what Hughes never could have done -- improve on a location.

"In its day, the Desert Inn was a great property," Maheu said. "Steve has created the city's greatest hotel."

While others buzzed in excitement around him, the man of the hour seemed to take in the evening's festivities with a calm sense of satisfaction.

Only 10 minutes after the doors opened, Wynn, with two escorts, strolled the casino floor, his ear affixed to a walkie-talkie that provided up-to-the-second updates.

Pausing to speak with the Review-Journal, Wynn was keenly interested in what others had to say about his latest creation.

"I couldn't see the people's reaction because there were so many of them," Wynn said of the crowds gathered outside before 12:01 a.m. When told people clapped and cheered upon entering the building, Wynn silently unveiled a beaming smile.

A crowd quickly gathered, and one well-wisher said Wynn was responsible for this ... "tumult," Wynn said, finishing the man's sentence. "I think that's a good Yiddish word to describe everything tonight."

Others snapped pictures and offered congratulations, and as Wynn went on his way, he was far more rock star than University of Pennsylvania-educated business tycoon.