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Rod Smith

Wynn Las Vegas: Let The Hiring Begin

1 November 2004

Curtains up. It's showtime at Wynn Las Vegas.

With design work done, financing complete and shell construction wrapping up, the $2.5 billion project becomes operational Monday when it starts hiring an expected 9,000 line employees, developer Steve Wynn said.

"We've passed the tipping point," he said. "However good we were at design and financing, it's the people who bring it to life. The hiring part is the real game; Sunday afternoon at the Masters."

This time around, Wynn has his fans, and skeptics are hard to find.

Deutsche Bank analyst Andrew Zarnett said there isn't a chance of a flop this close to opening.

"When you look at his experience, the numbers of qualified people who want to work with him, the people who know him, it'd be almost hard not to hire the right people," he said.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas history department Chairman Hal Rothman said it's highly likely that Wynn will succeed in recruiting the best and the brightest, allowing him to unveil a premier property the way he wants and reigniting excitement in Las Vegas as a destination.

"I can't figure out what will be done that will increase the level of luxury, but I believe he will do it. He'll raise the bar in important ways," he said. "It's very clear Steve Wynn is a draw and an opportunity that can't be matched. He has a reputation that will draw the people he wants to work for him. The prospects for his succeeding are enormous.

"Wynn Las Vegas should yield a huge return to the bottom line over the next year for the city, the county and the state as customers and the just plain curious come to see it."

Zarnett said because no major destination resort has opened in Las Vegas in the past five years, the opening of Wynn Las Vegas will swell visitation as thousands of people come to see "what Steve has built."

"Every time you have an opening in Las Vegas, there's a group of naysayers and they've never been right," Zarnett said. "Las Vegas has continued to grow through four waves of new property openings."

Rothman said the opening of Wynn Las Vegas should also be an opportunity for Culinary Local 226 since Wynn's previous properties have all been unionized and have set new standards for benefits.

Wynn says there is no way to run a first-class operation without the best workers possible, and that means working with the Culinary.

Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said no deals have been worked out in advance. However, he expects workers to have the chance to vote on organizing. After the vote, the union will negotiate a contract.

Wynn said the development, which has gone through several stages, has reached the point of real excitement.

"I spent two years and five months with a felt-tip pen alone in a room. I'm in ecstacy during that period," he said.

Then he met the challenge of financing the project, which included a public stock offering in 2002 that Wynn called harrowing. Wynn's investment bankers were forced to drop the stock's price three times, from $20 to $18 to $15, before settling on its final $13 price.

Wynn Resorts shares closed at $58.15 Friday, up more than fourfold from their October 2002 opening price.

After that, the sales department came on line to schedule business meetings and conventions, and actual construction started, he said.

"Now, a whole other experience takes place. The organization is talking back to me. All of a sudden, I'm in the back seat of the car and it's delicious -- like watching your children grow up," Wynn said. "I start to meet managers I didn't know. That's so exciting because it's the judgment of my smart colleagues."

Keeping his sense of humor amid the accelerating rush to open, however, he said the entire project is not only on time, but on budget.

Wynn has been renowned for going over budget on his previous projects, and for sparing no expense to make sure the designs have been executed to his standards.

He accepted the notion that with 32 years of experience under his belt, he may be better than in the past at laying out designs so they are developed as he intended.

"But this is really an eye-popping kind of exercise, (partly because we've made such a premium, five-star hotel," Wynn said.

Wynn's goal, as it was with The Mirage (1989), Treasure Island (1993) and Bellagio (1998), is to open the entire 2,700-room resort complex all at once, April 28, except for the "Avenue Q" show and theater, which will open on Labor Day.

"It's no small thing to pull off. And it's particularly difficult when you're opening cold like we are," he said. "That's one of the big challenges."

Wynn said that when he opened his previous Las Vegas properties, he was operating other hotel-casinos from which he could draw employees.

This time, he has 57 operating systems, one of which is the Internet recruiting program, all of which have to work at once.

"We're going to throw a switch and they're all going to have to work perfectly on Day One," Wynn said.

Wynn's Chief Human Resources Officer Arte Nathan, who has helped open all of the developer's resorts since 1983, said going it alone with no sister operations makes this project unique and the hiring that starts Monday critical.

"We've always had sister properties. This time, we've had to work harder to implant the culture and get them to understand what we're trying to accomplish," he said.

Still, Wynn said the property will open as scheduled on the birthday of his wife, Elaine.

Nathan said: "Steve's known for this. He wants the place to feel like it's been open for six months on the opening day. Others try it, but he's just relentless on this."

And he said Wynn is right to say recruiting, training, motivating and retaining employees will make or break the project.

"The building (itself) is wonderful, but it has no spirit. The people bring it to life and give the place its spirit," Nathan said.