Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wynn on Buying Bellagio: "Perhaps"

For those of you fascinated by Steve Wynn -- and who isn't? -- my pal and colleague Jon Ralston nabbed The Man (does Wynn have any commonly used nicknames?) on his "Face To Face" interview show for two half-hour episodes this week. The first, focused on gaming business matters, aired today on Las Vegas One and is now available online through the Las Vegas Sun's website because Ralston is also a Sun columnist.

There was lots in here and, aside from Charlie Rose, Wynn doesn't sit for lengthy TV interviews with anyone other than Ralston. And you know he likes Jon because, just as he does with me at least once or twice an interview, he chastizes the host in that loving way of his. (This time it comes in the start of segment 2 when Ralston compares Michael Milken to Bernie Madoff. Hoo boy.)

But what did he SAY, you wonder? Well, I encourage you to go watch, but here's some of the stuff I picked out:

1. Reacquiring Bellagio or Mirage: The first time Ralston asked, the answer is, "Well, I guess it depends on price." Then there's some discussion of what a great board Wynn Resorts has, and how they might be able to "be helpful to people on the Strip who perhaps would be better served by unbundling." I love that. Can you imagine? "Hello, Kirk? Remember that stuff you bought out from under me? Well, since I'm such a nice guy, let me help you by taking it back for a song. No, no. Don't thank me! Nothin' to it! What are friends for?" Ralston asked point-blank if Wynn wanted Bellagio or Mirage back and Wynn replied: "The operative word is perhaps. Maybe. Under certain circumstances. Conditional." Conditional on maybe Kirk Kerkorian rolling over in the grave he hasn't even begun inhabiting yet, perhaps? Wynn also went on a bit about the Mandalay Bay-Luxor-Excalibur in the same breath, but I couldn't make heads or tails of whether he was thinking about buying them or simply taking the opportunity -- helpful guy that he is -- to point out another way that the MGM gang spent too much.

2. Unbundling like it's 1999. As he did in my most recent interview with him, Wynn endorsed the "unbundling" of MGM Mirage, citing Vegas' storied history of "smart groups of guys fightin’ it out, getting the best deals by having to compete for advantages, entrepreneurial zeal." But I liked this one bit where he said, "I think an unbundling of the Mirage Company is a good idea." Hmmm. Wasn't that what we used to call it back in the day? A slip?

3. Madoff is worse than Hitler? As mentioned earlier, Ralston got Wynn going about Milken and Madoff. Wynn was explaining that Mike Milken, whose junk bonds financed Mirage, was his mentor in terms of explaining why having proper capitalization keeps companies afloat in rough times. Ralston wanted to challenge him on Milken but steps in it about Madoff, sending Wynn over the edge. Wynn defended Milken and said he'll go down as "the most important figure since Bernard Baruch on Wall Street." As for Madoff, whom Wynn never heard of until his scheme collapsed: "That’s one of the worst people in the history of the world. This man destroyed, over a 10-year period, destroyed his friends, women, charities, folks with their case money. How this guy didn’t get killed by somebody is beyond me." Yikes! Not sure what "case money" is but I listened to it a few times and that's what he said.

4. Good MGM, Bad MGM. The nicest thing Wynn can say about MGM Mirage is that there are "very smart people" there who did what everyone in the business world was doing at the time. He also said that MGM with CityCenter and Las Vegas Sands with Macau "undertook projects of such overwhelming scope and ambition that they have no real precedent or historical models to rely upon. They were groundbreaking products." Except that he doesn't mean any of that in a good way. "When you start a project without having enough money to finish it," Wynn said, "I find that to be [long, long, long pause] mystifying. I don’t know what to say except" and here I must simply try to SHOW you what he did.

He plays with his lips!!! Classic!

5. It's like he read this week's Strip Sense! With that amusing maneuver, Wynn goes on the attack. "Suppose there's a strike! Suppose there's an attack! Suppose the economy goes to hell!" he said, his voice rising. "What do you do? Tell everybody to go home? Oh, gosh, golly, sorry. … you look like a ninny. You’re supposed to understand that stuff happens. ... I have found it surprising that my brilliant colleagues have somehow managed to forget those things on occasion and now they’re paying a price for it." Now, what was it I wrote in the last two paragraphs of this week's Las Vegas Weekly column again?

6. One last, great quote. Wynn, bemoaning the lousy room rates he's getting for Wynn and Encore right now, said of these resorts: "This is not what they were built for." I think he really meant to say, "This is not WHO they were built for."

There's lots more and I encourage everyone to race to the Las Vegas Sun and watch it. I would've loved to have embedded the video of today's episode here -- it's in four parts -- but there doesn't seem to be a way on the Las Vegas Sun's website to do so. Weird, that.

Ralston's second show with Wynn should appear online tomorrow and promises to be more about politics and state budget issues. According to Jon's own summary of this interview, Wynn refers to Gov. Jim Gibbons, the Republican who promised Wynn he'd support the 3 percent room tax increase if the public voted for it only to let it become law without his signature, as "an unusual man." I wonder if he makes more funny faces when he says that.


Jeff said...

Case money is the last of a gambler's bankroll or stake. Maybe from, he had to get it out of the brief case or suit case?

Anonymous said...

I was surprised just how candid Wynn is on the interview. He is an enlightened business man. Great for tourists to see his spin on the downturn and Las Vegas specifically.


R-J Guy said...

if you're surprised by this, you should listen to steve's interviews with wynn on The Strip. They're usually a lot longer and a lot more probing, although this was pretty good for a TV show.