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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Crowds Flock to Wynn Las Vegas Opening

28 April 2005

and Richard N. Velotta

LAS VEGAS -- It might have been the most expensive birthday present in history.

Wynn Las Vegas, Steve Wynn's $2.7 billion megaresort, opened to a crush of at least 10,000 people after the stroke of midnight today in time to celebrate his wife Elaine's birthday.

It was exactly five years from the day Wynn purchased the 217-acre site of the old Desert Inn, which was imploded to make way for his latest creation.

Gawkers who waited several hours in line for a chance to see the property on opening night were greeted by an explosion of yellow, red and purple flowers in the main lobby. The eye-popping color scheme turns up in Asian and art nouveau-style designs reproduced on padded silk walls, carpets, mosaic floors and glass chandeliers.

Wynn said early this morning that it will take a few visits for guests to appreciate the nuances of his new baby.

"It was meant to be discovered," Wynn said. "It's about first, second and third impressions."

Property President Marc Schorr said workers were applying finishing touches as late as Wednesday afternoon.

The dominant color throughout the building is deep red -- a color considered lucky to the Asian customers Wynn expects to court.

Near the property's south entrance on Sands Avenue, the upscale Chinese restaurant Wing Lei features a pomegranate tree -- a symbol of fertility. Wing Lei means "forever prosperous" in Chinese as well as "win," a play on Wynn.

The property's "red card" is a gambler loyalty card that also doubles as a room key. Likewise, three of the property's major restaurants serve gourmet Asian fare from China and Japan as well as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

They include Red 8, featuring Cantonese cuisine and the number considered most lucky to Asian gamblers. Okada, which serves sushi, teppanyaki and traditional Japanese grilled cooking called robata, opens to an outdoor pond stocked with koi fish and surrounded by bamboo. Private dining rooms feature Japanese art.

Wynn stood outside amid the crowd to witness a countdown to midnight on the resort's marquee, then entered the front door to walk about the casino. He received thunderous applause from gamblers.

"Excellent job," screamed one woman, as gamblers turned away from their slot machines for an instant to catch a glimpse of the man whose name is on the top of the building.

Wynn acknowledged the crowd with a wave and a smile.

Nearby, his face grinned from the face of a Wynn-brand slot machine with a newly minted progressive jackpot.

Marquis Johnson, who recently moved to Las Vegas from Oakland, Calif., played a Wynn slot shortly after entering the building.

"I saw this being built up and wanted to go," said Johnson, who waited for three hours in line before he was let in. "I've never been to a grand opening. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

The first roll of the dice at the craps table was made by Allan Troster of Toronto, who threw a five. Two rolls later, he threw a seven and didn't make his point.

"I came for the opening party," said Troster, a financial planner. "I wouldn't miss it for anything."

Troster said he couldn't get a room for opening night, but plans to stay at the hotel Friday.

The biggest surprise of all isn't readily visible from the Strip. A 140-foot high, densely landscaped mountain faces the retail shops and restaurants and separates the resort from the glare and noise of Las Vegas Boulevard. At least five restaurants open outdoors to the mountain, which is fronted by a three-acre lake that features waterfalls and other water attractions.

One example is La Bete, a nightclub by the lake that features statues of a mythical, part-lion, part-dragon creature called a chimera that breathes out mists of colored water.

"You could not pick out a spot that you'd recognize as Las Vegas," Wynn Las Vegas Director of Nightclub Operations Frank Tucker said of the views from the club. The water-facing venues were designed to be self-contained and intimate, he said.

They are also aimed at "bringing the outdoors inside" and inviting in as much natural light as possible, Wynn Resorts spokeswoman Denise Randazzo said.

Near the front of the casino is a water feature called the Lake of Dreams, an attraction that projects images onto a waterfall to music. Just inside, giant parasols of red and orange silk move up and down from the ceiling.

The mountain is landscaped with mature trees, many of which had been removed and saved from the old Desert Inn golf course before it was remodeled.

Water also makes a dramatic presence behind the casino, retail and restaurant areas, where four pools with air-conditioned cabanas are bookended by an outdoor restaurant and a poolside casino and cafe.

The man who built the Aladdin, Jack Sommer, was impressed by the first megaresort to open on the Strip since his former property -- sold in a bankruptcy auction -- opened in August 2000.

"It's an impressive design," said Sommer, whose former property was plagued by design problems.

On the slot floor, Dena Gawey of Tulsa, Okla. -- in town for a conference -- said the level of staffing was noticeable.

"There's a service person everywhere you look," she said.

There were high expectations all around but locals who had heard Wynn talk of his latest masterpiece were impressed.

"There's no doubt that Wynn has taken an extra step up," said Ed Rogich, vice president of marketing for International Game Technology. "The water features and the concept of inside and outside ... take your breath away."

"You don't even want to compare it to anything," he said. "It's unique."

David Schwartz, coordinator of the gaming studies research center at UNLV, said Wynn's attention to detail was obvious.

"There's more detailed finishwork," he said. "Each area looks like it was individually designed."

Golden Nugget executive Tim Poster, trying his luck at the $100-a-hand blackjack table after the resort opened, said he was impressed with the opening.

"It's gorgeous, it's spectacular," Poster said. "Mr. Wynn has raised the bar again. It's going to be tough to compete with this place."

As for his own plans, Poster, who expects to close later this year on the sale of the Golden Nugget to Landry's, stayed tight-lipped.

"I'm looking forward to being back in the game again," he said.

Others saw echoes of Wynn's past creations and especially of the Bellagio, with its wide marble pathways and silk-covered accents.

"It's gorgeous, don't get me wrong, but it's like the reincarnation of the Bellagio," said Billy Herskowitz, a small business owner in Las Vegas. "It's roomy and you can walk around without being trampled," he said of the casino.

A couple that worked for the vendor that supplies the flowers for Wynn Las Vegas said Wynn's return to the Strip signifies a return of better service to customers.

"I've been over to Bellagio since MGM (Mirage) took it over and it just wasn't the same as when Wynn had it," said Bill Ludwig of New York, who works for supplier Hilverva de Boer.

He got no disagreement from his four-card poker dealer, who, like other table game dealers, wore a gold-scripted pin with his name instead of a standard-order casino badge. The male dealers wear the pins; the women have necklaces that incorporate their gold-plated names.

Ludwig and Kim Ptacek of Atlanta attended the opening after helping to arrange the shipment of the flowers to the resort from as far away as Holland, New Zealand and Ecuador. They, too, couldn't get rooms at the Wynn on opening night.

The resort features 32 retail shops including several boutiques owned and operated by Wynn Resorts. Those include Gizmos, a store with electronic gadgets, and Wink, featuring pens and eyewear. Visitors can purchase hotel furnishings -- from beds to chandeliers and antiques -- in the Wynn company store. Nevada's only Ferrari and Maserati dealership is strategically located near its poker room in a showroom that looks more like a museum.

The 45-room spa, which is open to non-guests of the hotel, has unusually accented wall treatments. Officials giving tours of the property prior to the opening said the unusual texture was chosen personally by Elaine Wynn, who realized later that it was the backing for the texture originally ordered but was more appealing than what was planned for the wall.

The spa has a menu of massages and treatments ranging from $30 to $425.

Earlier in the evening, the resort played host to about 2,000 VIPs who attended a charity dinner and filled the property's biggest suites for the night. Individuals paid $1,500 per plate and couples paid $7,500 for a room package. The event benefited the Greater Las Vegas After-School All Stars and Communities in Schools, two charities Elaine Wynn is involved with. The event also benefited the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Wynn human resources boss Arte Nathan said the property's 9,500 workers benefited from test-runs on Monday and Tuesday. Half of the property's workers worked on each day, with the others bringing family members and acting as guests.

"Monday was rocky, but Tuesday was perfect," Nathan said.

Wynn said some of the property's computer systems had glitches that were ironed out prior to the opening.

"Now it's up to them," he said about his new customers as they surged around him.