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Jeff Simpson on How Wynn Macau Successfully Climbed the Steep Learning Curve of Chinese Gaming

2 October 2006

Las Vegas Sun

y Jeff Simpsom

Wynn Macau has had an amazing amount of gambling action in its first few weeks of operation, with the amount of high-end play surprising even developer Steve Wynn.

"We've been doing incredibly well, and we're doing better every day," Wynn told me last week.

How much action? "In our first 13 days we had about $900 million in chip sales," Wynn said. "It's been crazed business, the VIP business in particular."

So crazy, in fact, that Wynn Macau's casino lost money for its first four days of operation, despite the robust action and the house edge on all table games.

"The business is unbelievable, but the confusion associated with it - and the opportunity for theft and embezzlement - was high as well," he said.

Wynn and Jack Binion, Wynn's top international executive, were worried about the early results and how they reflected on the casino's table game security, but the blistering gambling action prevented Wynn Macau honchos from balancing the casino cage numbers until Sept. 14, eight days after the casino opened. By then, the tide had turned, and the casino was solidly in the black.

"They're getting better," Wynn said of his Macau staff. "It's a steep learning curve with the junket and dead chip program."

Junket play gives gamblers a bonus for their cash buy-ins, but requires gamblers to play with "dead chips," gaming tokens that are not redeemable for cash. They must be used to bet, and when the dead chip bets win, they win regular chips that are redeemable for cash.

Wynn said he thinks Wynn Macau casino employees are beginning to master the nuances of high-end Chinese play - and just in time. This weekend will be another high-stress time in the Wynn Macau casino cage, as the numbers had to be balanced after Saturday evening at the end of the fiscal quarter. Wynn leaves Las Vegas today to return to Macau, as today is National Day and marks the first day of Golden Week, a Chinese holiday that gives almost all workers seven days off. Many Chinese gamblers use the occasion to test their luck in Macau, and some venture to Las Vegas.

"Along with Chinese New Year, these are the two biggest weeks of the year for our Chinese guests," Wynn said.

• • •

An In Business Las Vegas story in the Sept. 29-Oct. 5 issue by Cristina Rodriguez was a real eye-opener for me.

Rodriguez reported that MGM Mirage, the state's biggest casino operator, was recently honored by the Defense Department with its Employer Support Freedom Award, the highest honor the military can bestow on employers.

MGM Mirage was nominated and selected for the award because of its generous policy to pay its Reserve and National Guard employees their full pay and benefits when they are deployed. Companies are not required to provide pay and benefits to deployed workers. Some make up the difference between the employees' military and civilian pay, but MGM Mirage went a step beyond that and pays its employees in full, regardless of what they earn from the military.

The program has been in effect since 2003 and has so far covered 113 workers. About 50 MGM Mirage workers are deployed at any given time.

As a former soldier who served six years on active duty in the U.S. Army and another two years in the reserves, I believe MGM Mirage's deployment policy is a credit to the company and to our community.

MGM Mirage Chairman and Chief Executive Terry Lanni told me last week that he didn't ask his human resources executives to figure out how much the program costs the company.

"I've never even calculated it. I literally don't care," Lanni said. "It was the right thing to do. It's just that simple."

When one of his HR bosses said the cost of Lanni's proposal could be offset by deducting the amount of military pay the workers received from their MGM Mirage paychecks, Lanni cut the executive short.

"What part of 100 percent don't you understand?" Lanni asked.

Lanni has been gratified to receive letters and e-mails from deployed employees and their families. The mother of a bartender at the Tabu nightclub at MGM Grand wrote Lanni to thank him for paying her son's full wages - plus a supplement to make up for tips - even though the bartender had only worked at the Grand for two days.

"I don't care if it was two days or 10 years," Lanni said. "They're going to get paid."

I don't wear a uniform anymore, but I'd like to offer Lanni and MGM Mirage a crisp salute. They've earned it.

Jeff Simpson is business editor of the Las Vegas Sun and executive editor of its sister publication In Business Las Vegas.

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