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Betting the Ranch

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Steve Wynn, Jan/Feb 03

Steve Wynn will always be associated with the revival of Las Vegas. When the city was being written off in the late 1980s as a stale, out-of-date locale, Wynn came along and created luxurious, upscale casino-resorts that transformed the city. The Mirage, and later Bellagio, set the standard for new hotels in the 1990s. Wynn's pioneering efforts turned Las Vegas into the number one tourist destination in America and made it the fastest growing city in the country.

That's why in late October, when Wynn announced his new $1.95 billion project to build yet another luxury hotel, the town and the gaming industry were abuzz. Wynn had been mostly absent from the scene since March 2000, when he exited his company in the wake of Kirk Kerkorian's takeover. Kerkorian, the owner of the MGM Grand hotel, took advantage of a downturn in Mirage Resorts' stock price to buy the company. Wynn took part of his $500 million payout to acquire the Desert Inn in late 2000, but then quietly bided his time before deciding on his next move.

Wynn's next move is called Le Reve, or The Dream. Wynn says that he knew he couldn't come back and just build another Mirage, or Bellagio, which he calls a hotel that was taken to the absolute limits of its concept -- he couldn't do it better. But he analyzed what had made those places successful and studied ways to build a new casino-hotel resort with something unique. It's going to be three years before the project opens, but it promises, according to Wynn, to raise the bar even higher in Las Vegas. The regular rooms will be the largest in the city. No luxury will be spared in the 300 high-roller suites and 18 private villas. And he will completely redesign the old Desert Inn golf course, one of the last remaining courses on the Strip.

Every industry has a leader, a person who takes chances and seizes opportunities to do something different. It may be a Bill Gates with Microsoft, a Jeff Bezos in online sales at Amazon.com, a Len Riggio with Barnes & Noble Superstores, or a Ted Turner at CNN. The person is able to see concepts in his mind, or dreams, and turn them into realities. Wynn falls into the category. Moreover, Wynn is tackling this new challenge as the U.S. economy is faltering and tourism has slowed. This economic environment means his project is a risky one, but his willingness to bet the ranch is a sign of his optimism, not only about the future of Las Vegas, but of the U.S. economy.

Wynn is living proof of the American Dream. It is the notion that anybody with an idea and the ambition to make it happen can be successful in this country. Don't be surprised if Wynn's new project triggers another round of development in Las Vegas that will make the city an even more amazing destination.

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