If you don’t see a video, it’s…

If you don’t see a video, it’s here: http://youtu.be/EqZ82UwJuBQ

Author David G. Schwartz summarizes chapter 15, “A Clockwork Volcano: Las Vegas Strikes Back,” of Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling (Casino Edition).

This chapter starts by discussing some of the technological changes that made possible the rise of slot machines, like the introduction of video poker and wide area progressive games like Megabucks. It then talks about The Mirage, which opened in 1989 and kicked off the 1990s boom for Las Vegas. Although it completely changed the Las Vegas Strip, before it opened, many were skeptical that it would succeed.

We then learn about other important companies like MGM Mirage and the Mandalay Resort Group, which, through a series of mergers (including one with Mirage Resorts) became MGM Resorts. Las Vegas Sands, which owns the Venetian and Palazzo, is also profiled.

For more information about the book, visit http://www.rollthebonesbook.com

If you don’t see a video, it’s here: http://youtu.be/EqZ82UwJuBQ

Author David G. Schwartz summarizes chapter 15, “A Clockwork Volcano: Las Vegas Strikes Back,” of Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling (Casino Edition).

This chapter starts by discussing some of the technological changes that made possible the rise of slot machines, like the introduction of video poker and wide area progressive games like Megabucks. It then talks about The Mirage, which opened in 1989 and kicked off the 1990s boom for Las Vegas. Although it completely changed the Las Vegas Strip, before it opened, many were skeptical that it would succeed.

We then learn about other important companies like MGM Mirage and the Mandalay Resort Group, which, through a series of mergers (including one with Mirage Resorts) became MGM Resorts. Las Vegas Sands, which owns the Venetian and Palazzo, is also profiled.

For more information about the book, visit http://www.rollthebonesbook.com

Wynn & China on Two Way Hard Three

In case you missed it, I posted a piece yesterday on Two Way Hard Three talking about Wynn Resorts and China:

In today’s flurry of email headlines (which continue whether I’m in the office or not) I read a blurb saying that Wynn Resorts “has become”; a Chinese company. Certainly this is no surprise to Wynn. I remember him saying that as far back as 2005, though then it was more along the lines of, “One day Wynn Resorts will be a Chinese company.”

Of course, this is getting press now since it’s being coupled with his criticisms of the Obama administration, but looking at the numbers, it’s clear that Wynn Resorts has been a predominantly Chinese company for quite some time.

via Wynn’s a Chinese company, now more than ever | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

Check it out, if only for the neat little charts. I managed to cut out one step in producing those charts, so I’m pretty excited about them.

Wynn points to the future

I’ve got a new Las Vegas Business Press column up, in which I discuss the historical context behind Wynn’s musings about moving to Macau.

Steve Wynn made headlines when he suggested he might consider moving the headquarters of Wynn Resorts Ltd. to Macau from Las Vegas. As always, Wynn's forthrightness points the way to a larger truth about the future of the casino industry.

Wynn Resorts is a Las Vegas success story. Since moving here in 1967 as a part-owner of the Frontier, Steve Wynn has been one of the city's prime movers.

He began making a mark in 1973, when he became the chief executive officer of the Golden Nugget, then a small downtown casino with no real distinction.

Wynn's aspirations outside of Las Vegas have always been an important piece of the puzzle.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : When Wynn speaks, gaming listens.

I think that many of the so-called pundits have reacted more emotionally than rationally to Wynn lately, particularly since he’s become critical of the current administration, and that’s what’s driving some of the comments out there. We talked about this a little on the latest Vegas Gang.

Wynn’s political opinions and the possibility of his moving the headquarters of his company are, I think, two separate issues. It’s not like he’s threatening to go John Galt on us: he’s just saying that he might move more elements of Wynn Resorts to the city that is its top market. People give another prominent CEO grief for not living in Las Vegas, since that’s where the action is, and by this logic they should be demanding that Wynn spend more time in Macau.

The most fascinating thing about Wynn is that, like Jay Sarno, his career doesn’t have a single, predictable arc. If he did, he’d have just kept expanding the Golden Nugget or, at the very least, staying with that brand. Instead, you’ve had forays into Atlantic City, Mississippi, and Macau, with the sale of Mirage Resorts along the way. All the time, he was reacting to changing conditions. If things had gone differently in Atlantic City, he might not even have built the Mirage, or at the very least would have built it in Atlantic City, and casino history would be much different.

So it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if the next stage of Wynn’s career takes him in a completely different direction. It’s happened before and there’s no reason to think it won’t happen again.

Taking a bow

My Las Vegas Business Press piece on Encore is up. It’s an expansion of my original post on this site. Here’s my grand conclusion:

Encore, in its essence, is hopeful. Even the name is a reminder that something came before, and something will come after. It’s both a great new resort and a call to remember that as long as it continues to change, Las Vegas will survive.

Wynn should take a bow for Encore and its essence of hope.

Insomuch as it’s possible to plumb a casino opening for a deeper read on the current American mindset, I’m giving it a shot. I’d really like to develop this into a 2000-word or so essay that pulls in the history of the Strip, speculation, consumerism, much more. Any editors out there want to pay for such a piece? Just checking.

Together, I think Wynn and Encore are the first Vegas resort that’s not looking backward: there’s no nostalgia for the past or for imagined versions of other, more notable, places. It looks like City Center and Fountainebleau will be in the same mold. Whether you love or hate the Wynn suite of properties, you’ve got to admit that stylistically they are a world away from, say, the Palazzo and Venetian, which are supposed to evoke the glories of a city whose heyday passed before Columbus sailed. They are original without making a fetish of their modernism.

If we don’t have the airline capacity to deliver people to town, though, does any of this make a difference in 2009? Later in the week I’ll be developing my year-in-review/looking ahead columns, and I think that will be the big question.

Encore echoes

There’s been quite the buzz for Encore over the Internet. This quote from Oskar Garcia’s AP piece explains, I think, why Wynn gets it more than anyone except Jack Binion and a few others:

Wynn expected thousands to jam the entrances to the casinos on Monday night, as some of his best customers ceremoniously pull the first slots and play the first hand at each machine and table with $2 million in house money.

If they win — at prices of $1,000 to $25,000 — they get to keep the winnings, but Wynn says he expects they’ll play some more no matter what happens.

“I’ve never met a gambler that would win a bet and retire from gambling,” he said.

Wynn’s Encore opens during tough times for Vegas

There’s something else about the place that I didn’t mention yesterday–like Wynn, it has a sense of humor about itself. Many of the other luxury joints take themselves way too seriously. I don’t get the feeling that Encore does. There’s a real sense of whimsy running throughout the place. I’m sure a guy that’s just blown $25,000 at mini bacc would beg to differ, but I can see it.

I’ve got an idea that I will hopefully get to develop more in an essay somewhere: Encore is a themed hotel, but it’s themed around ideas, not a time or place. It’s not homogeneous, but it all ties together because it comes back to the idea of change, metamorphosis, and reinvention…which is the essence of Las Vegas, after all.

And now for an Encore

Dave’s thoughts on the opening of Encore at Wynn Las Vegas.

After much anticipation, I got to see the inside of Encore. My expectations were high. As I said in the RJ, Steve Wynn’s been opening casinos for a while now, and he does it better than anyone in the business. I tried not to read the pre-opening press too closely because I’m in no hurry to see the future–I’d rather experience it as it happens.

I was enormously lucky this morning, since the group I was in (which included fellow Vegas Gang members Hunter, Chuck, and David) was conducted around the property by Roger Thomas, the hotel’s Executive Vice President of Design. He designed himself or had a hand in the realization of just about everything we saw, and had fascinating anecdotes about how he acquired many of the pieces on display throughout the property. It was a real treat.

I’m amazed at how well everything came together. When I ran past the place during the marathon (which was about 2 weeks ago but feels like 2 months), I thought that there was no way the hotel would be ready to open on the 22nd–and that was just the porte cochere. When I got there at quarter of 11 this morning, there was still work going on, but the place is absolutely ready. There’s something to be said for a hard opening: much more dramatic impact and excitement than doing it in dribs and drabs.

And that’s what it all comes down to: visual theater. It’s hard not to get jaded about casinos when you live in Las Vegas, and even tougher when you’ve worked in one. Encore really impressed me in a way that few hotels or casinos have. To explain the genius of the place, let me tell you about Mr. A and Mr. B. Mr. A has been coming to Las Vegas for thirty years and has gone from Caesars Palace to Mirage to Bellagio, with stays at Bally’s, MGM Grand, and Paris mixed in. He loves Vegas and everything about Vegas, especially the gambling. Mr. B came to Vegas once, in 1999, and hated everything about the city. He doesn’t gamble. I really think that both Mr. A and Mr. B would be equally wowed by Encore for completely different reasons.

Encore is the ultimate Vegas and the anti-Vegas, both at the same time. The colors are rich without being gaudy. The interiors deliver luxury without pretension. I didn’t get the feeling that it was trying to impress: instead, it felt like some folks with an unlimited bank account and excellent taste got together and decided to build. I can see how it’s the logical product of Wynn’s three decades plus in the casino business, but also a departure.

I won’t bore you with the petty details: the chambered casino, the unique finishes in each restaurant, and the square footage of the guest rooms. That’s been better told elsewhere. I’ll just relate some of my impressions of what I saw.

At first, I didn’t think that I was going to be very impressed with the restaurants. After all, they’re just places for people to eat, right? How creative can you get with that? Sinatra, for example: when I heard the idea of a Sinatra-themed Italian restaurant, I thought, ugh. I pictured Piero’s with Rat Pack photos and gold records on the walls. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The restaurant is actually a gem, a fantastically-designed space with brilliant details, and a few tasteful photos of Frank Sinatra that don’t look out of place at all. It’s really the opposite of everything I’d imagined it would be.

Switch, too, was a real shock. When I heard the concept of a restaurant whose walls changed, I cynically thought that they must not have much optimism for the menu if they have to use gimmicks like that. Seeing the concept in action, though, it all makes sense. Roger Thomas says that Steve Wynn’s idea was “dinner theater without the actors.” He absolutely achieved it: the switch effect is flawless, and the musical cues give it a true sense of drama. I can see now how it will complement, not distract from, your meal.

More cynicism exploded: you would think that opening a nightclub called “XS” in the midst of an economic slowdown is the height of hubris. Do we really need another gilded night spot? Walking through the space, I can say “yes.” It feels like a celebration of movement, of life, particularly the gold leaf body forms in the foyer, another detail that must be seen to be appreciated. It’s not hubris, it’s optimism, a bold statement that there still are moments in life worth celebrating.

Set against “the downturn,” the entire resort takes the shape of a manifesto, a declaration that there’s only one way ahead, and that’s to move forward. Granted, none of this was planned: Encore was conceived when it looked like smooth sailing ahead. Today, it has a relevance far beyond any other casino. It’s a profound cultural statement.

We’re not going to gamble or pamper our way out of our current societal predicament, but Encore is a bellwether nonetheless because it is forward-looking. There are elements from the past and from various parts of the world, but nothing sentimental or nostalgic. Sinatra, for example, looks like a room that the singer would be comfortable in, but like nothing that he would have seen during his life. It’s not about presenting Rat Pack nostalgia–it’s creating a space around the symbolic core of Sinatra’s music.

In short, next time you’re in Las Vegas, plan to spend some time in Encore. It will be something to remember.

Night on Wynn Mountain

Technically, this story isn’t set ON the mountain at Wynn Las Vegas, but inside it. But it’s an allusion to a popular piece of classical music and just sounds better than “INSIDE THE ARTIFICIAL MOUNTAIN AT WYNN LAS VEGAS.”

Ace KLAS-TV reporter Edward Lawrence somehow got inside the Mt. Wynn and, with the help of a photojournalist or two, shot a pretty good story in and around there. Check it out, from KLAS, which bills is website as LasVegasNow:

Driving by Wynn Las Vegas it’s easy to see the mountain Steve Wynn built in front of his hotel. What you have not seen, until now, is what’s inside the mountain.

It makes for a great picture. Tourist Lelia Hirsch exclaims, “Driving by it’s beautiful.” It drowns out the sound of the Las Vegas Strip. It blocks the Las Vegas lights. The mountain also hides a secret. It’s hollow.

Workers get in and out of the mountain through a tunnel under the main lake in front of Wynn Las Vegas. There’s a workshop and freight elevator which rises onto the mountain. Wynn Las Vegas Executive Director of Horticulture, Jim Gibbons says, “This mountain can stay here 100 years. It’s build on solid concrete with pockets built into it to hold the plants.”

Gibbons designed the mountain selecting every tree and plant on it. He says the hardest part is constantly topping himself. Gibbons helped lay out the San Diego wild animal park. He also developed the rainforest in the Mirage, the plants at Treasure Island, and came up with the atrium idea for the Bellagio.

When asked if he plans to retire? He responds, “No. I don’t need to. I’m retired doing this.” The mountain will be his legacy. Gibbons says Wynn built it with the plants in mind. He adds it has perfect drainage, perfect soil in the planters, and the trees love it.

LasVegasNOW.com | News for Las Vegas, Nevada – Wynn’s Mountain on the Las Vegas Strip

Click through and keep reading, because there’s some interesting stuff in there–both in the story and in the mountain. Actually, I’m a little surprised that no one’s thought of squeezing a high roller suite or two in there.

I’ve got to think that it would be almost impossibly cool to pay your check at one of the restaurants, get up from the table, jump into a little raft, and paddle over to a secret door in the mountain. It’s also a primo spot for a secret base–if you need a secret base. I don’t think Steve Wynn does–I’ve been in his office, and it’s pretty nice.

And an opening

Closings were in the news yesterday, but there was a big opening in Macau as well. From the AP:

Thousands of gamblers crowded into American billionaire Stephen Wynn’s new $1.2 billion casino resort on Wednesday in Macau — the Chinese territory that may soon unseat the Las Vegas Strip as the world’s most profitable gambling capital.

Fireworks showered the Wynn Macau with sparks just before its midnight opening. A huge sign lit up with red lights, while speakers blared Frank Sinatra’s “Luck be a Lady” outside the 600-room complex that hopes to lure China’s swelling population of gamblers.

Macau — a peninsula and two islands off the southeastern Chinese coast — is the only place in China that allows casino gambling. The tiny territory — less than one-sixth the size of Washington, D.C. — was a Portuguese enclave until it was handed back to China in 1999.

Zhu Jingqing, a middle-aged man from the central Chinese province of Hubei, was in the huge crowd that rushed into the casino when it opened.

“I feel that all mainlanders should come here to have a look,” he said.

Kong Ermu, 28, a Chinese tourist from the eastern province of Anhui, said, “It’s far better than what I imagined. It’s classier and comfortable.”

Wynn, 65, was one of two Las Vegas gaming tycoons who were allowed to open casinos here after the government in 2002 broke up a monopoly controlled by local mogul Stanley Ho for 40 years. Ho’s casinos were smokey, dingy venues — far from the glitz and sparkle of Las Vegas.

Ending the monopoly sparked a building boom that will bring an estimated 2,200 new hotel rooms into the market this year and another 15,000 in 2008.

“The speed of development is dizzying. The population it seeks to serve is expanding,” Wynn told reporters just hours before his resort’s midnight opening.

Many believe that Macau will soon overtake the Las Vegas Strip as the world’s casino capital. Last year, Macau was about even with the Las Vegas Strip, which had “win,” or net amount lost to casinos, of $5.3 billion. Experts see Macau’s gambling revenue growing quickly to $9 billion to $11 billion by 2010 and upward of $15 billion by 2012.

U.S. Mogul Wynn Opens Macau Casino

Of course, time will tell if Wynn is right–some, including Sheldon Adelson, say he’s not–but if the past is any predictor, he will be.

VIP rooms

One of the things that struck me in Macau casinos was the prevalence of private VIP salons. Leased by junket operators, they give a share of profits to the casino but seem to be independently run. At last, there’s something in print that explains the phenomenon.
Continue reading “VIP rooms”

Internet news: take it or leave it

If it’s on the Internet, it’s got to be true, right? Maybe not. According to Dow Jones (so says Yahoo), Wynn Resorts is looking to build in Singapore. That seems reasonable. But one paragraph in, the article says that Wynn owns the Bellagio and Mirage.
Continue reading “Internet news: take it or leave it”