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Power Players

Mirage Resorts CEO and former World Series of Poker champ Bobby Baldwin goes all in on, and off, the felt
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006

(continued from page 2)

Those quick-study capabilities will surely come into play during the development of CityCenter, which is due to open in 2009. To provide a taste of what it will be like, Baldwin leads me to his tricked-out Ford F-150 Super Crew pickup truck and drives to an auxiliary office that serves as headquarters for the project.

Inside a cavernous, loft-like showroom, Baldwin stands before a tabletop model of CityCenter, complete with chic post-modern hotels, condos and a shopping mall. The scaled-down buildings are swirly and deconstructed and they look like nothing that habitués of the Strip have ever seen in Vegas. To my eye, it's a just-add-water, big-budget supercity like the Pudong district in Shanghai, looking funky and provocative and modernizing your notion of a skyline. To Baldwin's way of thinking, CityCenter is a magnet that will not only attract well-heeled gamblers but corral them away from the rest of Vegas. "The nature of the design is that you can come here and not leave," he says, emphasizing that strategic landscaping and public art will soften the glass and steel buildings and make the neighborhood more attractive. "Whatever you want is here"—restaurants, casinos, high-end shopping, wide pedestrian-friendly streets that have been modeled after Manhattan's Park Avenue—"and if you want a little more, we will have a tram that can take you right to the Bellagio or Monte Carlo."

Nevertheless, while the project seems undeniably impressive, some may wonder about the venture's timing. Several high-profile condo projects have recently been derailed in Vegas and chatter about a national real estate bubble is pervasive. "There are always going to be real estate bubbles everywhere," says Baldwin, sounding dismissive and undaunted. "They come and go. But the people with sound locations and sound projects that are properly financed and managed will always be successful." Then he ticks off several new condo developments that are selling—including ones built with the backing of Donald Trump and Peter Morton—points out that "those are all B locations at best," and adds, "It looks like we will have the only residential location on the Las Vegas Strip."

Baldwin's lips curl up as he describes the 88,000 truckloads of dirt that need to be moved to allow for foundations to be poured. He notes that there will be more than 1,000 condo/hotel units just in the curvilinear tower that Rafael Vinoly is designing, and he emphasizes the lighting and views that will help define CityCenter. As a guy who likes machines, he seems tickled by the notion of filling his property with construction equipment and the buzz of progress. "We'll have 52 cranes on this site," he says. "Dubai is the only place in the world that has more cranes working than CityCenter will."

Then the Mirage Resorts boss gets a competitive glimmer in his eye, a physical expression that high-stakes poker players with weak cards and little heart ought to fear. It looks as if Bobby Baldwin just might be considering the possibility of raising the United Arab Emirates with a few more cranes, as he continues upping the stakes in casino gambling's biggest game.

Michael Kaplan is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.

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