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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston
 

Looking in on: Gaming

1 October 2007

With a major boost from their Ultimate Fighting Championship franchise, the Fertitta brothers made the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans for the first time this year, with Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta each posting an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion.

The Station Casinos bosses, 45 and 38, respectively, up the list's "cool" factor, joining high-flying hedge fund managers as some of the youngest men in the rankings.

Unlike their Wall Street peers, however, the Fertittas are living the dream of many American men, ditching suits in favor of designer jeans and blazers and punctuating the quiet of the boardroom with the roar and spectacle of the Ultimate Fighting Championship octagon.

But their riches are small compared with the vast paper wealth amassed by gaming titans Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn. Thanks to the unexpectedly strong casino economy in Macau, the rivals have rocketed up the list, leaving high-tech giants and American dynasties in the dust.

Adelson, who owns more than half of the shares in Las Vegas Sands, is No. 3 with an estimated net worth of $28 billion, surpassing the wealth of honchos from Google, Oracle, Dell and Wal-Mart. His estimated worth is up from $20.5 billion last year.

Wynn, who owns about 24 percent of Wynn Resorts, is No. 86 with $3.9 billion, compared with last year's $2.6 billion.

That's but a shadow of what's to come for both men, whose shares hit new highs Monday after rising more than 20 percent since Adelson opened his $2.4 billion Venetian Macau last month to rave reviews.

Adelson could end up within spitting distance of Bill Gates ($59 billion) once he builds $18 billion in casino and hotel projects, mostly in Macau. Wynn, who opened the $1.2 billion Wynn Macau last year, has rights to build more resorts on land he still is amassing there.

• • •

Building the world's tallest building three miles from McCarran International Airport no longer appears to be the goal of Texas developer Christopher Milam.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Milam, who has an option to acquire 27 acres south of the Sahara, is considering lowering the height of his proposed 1,888-foot resort tower to 1,200 feet. That still would top the Stratosphere, the tallest structure west of the Mississippi.

That's unlikely to appease airport and FAA officials, who previously recommended a maximum height of 708 feet. Anything higher would be a potential hazard to aircraft, the FAA said previously in a review. Clark County, where the parcel sits, requires prior FAA approval for buildings.

Besides the scope of the project, timing is uncertain.

Milam's company has an investor agreement with Australian billionaire and casino owner James Packer and has paid more than $47 million in deposits and fees to secure the site. But he has extended several deadlines to exercise a purchase option. Milam has until the end of June to acquire the land for $475 million.

• • •

Bellagio is remodeling its baccarat pit as part of an effort to keep the property fresh and relevant, with CityCenter opening next door by the end of 2009 .

Wynn Las Vegas now claims to control the largest chunk of baccarat business on the Strip.

But MGM Mirage executive Bobby Baldwin, the company's chief design and construction officer, says Bellagio, which posted its greatest profit after Wynn opened up the Strip, won't lose out to competition.

Baldwin says he is overseeing the adjacent Bellagio and Monte Carlo in addition to his current duties managing CityCenter to safeguard the properties' futures.

"Bellagio's going to be more successful after CityCenter opens, not less," he said. "But it takes coordination for that to happen. If CityCenter was opening as a single enterprise I'd simply steal all the customers from other properties. I won't be doing that when CityCenter opens."

Looking in on: Gaming is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.