There’s old Vegas and new Vegas, and the line between the two was probably drawn November 22nd, 1989. That was the day Wynn’s folly–the 3,044 room luxury hotel–opened on the Las Vegas strip. The old Vegas casino magnates clucked their tongues about the impossible daily take CEO Steve Wynn would have to pull in just to keep the doors open.
But the Mirage shocked the experts, and it wasn’t long before the old Vegas hands had to make a choice: either emulate Wynn and build mega-resorts in his image (Mandalay Bay) or hold on to the 99 cent cocktail, the free slot pull and the marketing message that Vegas gives you something for nothing.
It really started before the Mirage, when Steve Wynn gained controlling interest in the Golden Nugget, downtown.
He swept the sawdust off the floors and brought in decorators who replaced it with marble, which was polished every night.
Fine art went up on the walls, even in the rest rooms, and the staff were schooled in treating guests like they were at the Ritz-Carlton and not at some sleezy gambling joint in sin city.
The buffet, which used to be a way to eat cheap food for a pittance (Circus Circus priced its breakfast buffet at 99¢), cost a whopping $27 for the Cornicopia dinner at the Nugget and included all the steamed crab legs you could eat. Steve Wynn saw Las Vegas differently than it had been seen for decades, and his success in turning a failing downtown hotel into the talk of the town attracted the investors that enabled him to change Vegas.
But most of today’s Vegas can trace its lineage either to Steve Wynn, or someone trying to emulate him, and now Wynn has upped the ante in an industry that is hanging on for dear life. Harrah’s and Station Casinos are trying to stay afloat.
When Wynn opened his Encore hotel, a near twin of the hotel that bears his name on the old Desert Inn property across from Fashion Show Mall, and aggressively cut rates to keep it full, he’s changed the game in Vegas again, and while no one is sure how it will come out, my money’s on Wynn. He hasn’t always made the perfect decisions, but he’s rarely made a wrong one.