master plan

In the process of build­ing lux­ury ho­tels around the world, Steve Wynn cre­ated a pow­er­ful brand that now holds sway in ur­ban plan­ning.

Wynn Magazine - - CONTENTS - By An­drea Ben­nett

In the process of build­ing lux­ury ho­tels around the world, Steve Wynn cre­ated a pow­er­ful brand that now holds sway in ur­ban plan­ning.

No piece of pop­u­lar mar­ket­ing jar­gon seems to be so de­sir­able th­ese days as the per­sonal brand. Few, of course, have de­lin­eated theirs quite as clearly as Steve Wynn, whose name, in his own curvi­lin­ear hand­writ­ing, has be­come a lodestar on the Las Ve­gas Strip. The same can be said about his name on the swoop­ing side of Wynn Ma­cau. And when Wynn Palace opens this year on the Co­tai Strip fol­lowed by Wynn Bos­ton Har­bor in Everett, Mas­sachusetts, they will bear the same rec­og­niz­able name. Wynn him­self hatches re­sort- and even city-al­ter­ing plans the way other peo­ple write gro­cery lists. So per­haps it is not a sur­prise that when I ask him about the Wynn brand, he is in­dif­fer­ent to the idea. What he’s do­ing, he in­sists, is what he’s al­ways been do­ing—al­beit on a grander scale.

By the time Wynn got his start af­ter hav­ing grad­u­ated from col­lege, he’d ex­pe­ri­enced the glam­our of Las Ve­gas and Mi­ami, he ex­plains. “I came away from those ex­pe­ri­ences, when my fa­ther died, hav­ing in­her­ited a bingo op­er­a­tion next to a con­crete-block to­bacco ware­house in south­ern Mary­land. I have the Fon­tainebleau in my head, and the only thing I’ve got go­ing for me is the bingo. So I’m hus­tling to get the bingo go­ing so I can go to greener pas­tures and be a de­vel­oper. The casi­nos have al­lowed me to spend more money on fancy des­ti­na­tion ho­tels than I ever thought would be pos­si­ble. And then I had the great luck and priv­i­lege to do it dur­ing the golden age of Las Ve­gas.” In fact, the Wynn ethos was born decades be­fore he built the Mi­rage in 1989, which, at a cost of $630 mil­lion, was the most ex­pen­sive ho­tel built to date—and cred­ited with chang­ing the Las Ve­gas land­scape. “The build­ing of a brand was a side ef­fect of a sim­ple ob­ser­va­tion I made when I was younger,” he says. “I never wanted to be in a busi­ness where you were sell­ing price, be­cause the only place to go is down. In­stead, I opted to sell ex­pe­ri­ence. And when you’re sell­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, price is ir­rel­e­vant as long as you keep the prom­ise.” As owner of the Golden Nugget in the 1970s, he says, “I made it a four-star place. I was ill-suited to [Down­town’s] Fre­mont Street, so I tried to re­make Fre­mont Street to suit me.” As a re­sult, on his watch the Golden Nugget made more money than the other Fre­mont Street casino ho­tels com­bined. Fast-for­ward to the 1990s, and the Mi­rage gave hote­liers per­mis­sion to spend, Wynn says. “In­stead of build­ing lit­tle $150 mil­lion ho­tels, they could spend north of half a bil­lion, and every­body started do­ing it.” Af­ter open­ing the Bel­la­gio in 1998, Wynn’s name may have be­come syn­ony­mous with lux­ury to ho­tel cognoscenti, but he was ret­i­cent to put it on the side of a build­ing once the time came to name his new prop­erty prior to its 2005 open­ing. “It seemed ego­cen­tric,” he re­calls; be­sides, he wanted to name the ho­tel af­ter a fa­mous Pi­casso paint­ing he owned, Le Rêve (“The Dream”). He en­listed ad­ver­tis­ing guru Peter Ar­nell, who polled Ve­gas reg­u­lars for weeks and came up with this pro­nounce­ment, Wynn says. “‘My an­swer to you, Steve, is that you can call it “Le Rêve,” but you’d damn well bet­ter say it’s the guy who built the Mi­rage and Bel­la­gio and it means “The Dream.” And for my money, that’s too much in­for­ma­tion.’”

“I opted to sell ex­pe­ri­ence. And when you’re sell­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, price is ir­rel­e­vant as long as you keep the prom­ise.”— steve wynn

But Wynn didn’t so­lid­ify the de­ci­sion un­til he’d made calls to Barry Diller, Don­ald Trump, and Steven Spiel­berg to ask their pro­fes­sional opinions. Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally for Diller, Wynn laughs, the me­dia mogul re­sponded, “‘Why are you ask­ing me a stupid ques­tion like this? I don’t know what the “Le Rêve” idea was about in the first place. Call the place the Wynn and stop screw­ing around with this “Le Rêve” busi­ness.’” Wynn per­fectly in­tones Trump’s voice to re­call the sec­ond con­ver­sa­tion. “‘I’ll tell you one thing. Every­body in New York is talk­ing about your new ho­tel. They know you’re call­ing it “Le Rêve” be­cause you’ve got the paint­ing, but they know it’s you. So you might as well call it Wynn—you’re gonna get the flak any­way.’ I said, ‘Okay, thanks, Don,’ and called Spiel­berg.” The third call sealed the deal for Wynn. “‘If you told Katie [Kate Cap­shaw, Spiel­berg’s wife] and me we were go­ing to a new ho­tel in Las Ve­gas called “Le Rêve,” we’d need more in­for­ma­tion. If you told us we’re go­ing to Steve Wynn’s new ho­tel, we don’t need more in­for­ma­tion. Why are you hav­ing trou­ble with your sur­name? It’s not Lip­s­chitz or Spiel­berg. And what about the dou­ble en­ten­dre of Wynn? Your name’s not “Lose.”’” Putting his name on his ho­tels, Wynn says, came down to ac­count­abil­ity—whose gate, he muses, swings both ways. “Peo­ple love ac­count­abil­ity. Peo­ple think they know me that don’t. Or peo­ple as­cribe to me qual­i­ties that I don’t de­serve be­cause the peo­ple I work with do some­thing won­der­ful. If some­thing’s wrong, then I’m a jerk, but if some­thing’s nice, I’m a ge­nius. The coun­ter­point is that ac­count­abil­ity is a good thing when peo­ple are trust­ing you with their stay. They want to know that some­one cares.” All over the Wynn and En­core grounds, he says, peo­ple ap­proach him to thank him for cre­at­ing a won­der­ful place. In-per­son crit­i­cism? “Only my mother did that once,” he laughs. What started as Wynn’s modus operandi has be­come the brand. But Wynn doesn’t see his prop­er­ties as a string of lux­u­ri­ous one-offs. “Our idea in China and Bos­ton is the same,” he em­pha­sizes. “The board and I feel that if we do a won­der­ful job on a metropoli­tan grand des­ti­na­tion ho­tel and casino, we’ll cre­ate the tem­plate for cities like At­lanta or Dal­las that would want to do this. The ho­tel we’re build­ing in Bos­ton is a des­ti­na­tion—not a box of slots in a re­gional casino, but an ad­di­tion to a city that makes peo­ple want to go there and va­ca­tion. Sim­i­larly, Wynn Palace in Co­tai is go­ing to be the photo-op for the city. It is or­ders of mag­ni­tude fancier than the com­peti­tors—and that’s not de­vel­oper-speak,” he says. “They’re case stud­ies of why you can trust our brand if you re­ally want to im­prove your city.” That won’t be the end of Wynn’s to-do list. “They say you’re only as good as your track record,” Wynn says, a flicker of what is per­haps some new idea cross­ing his face. “So I’m busy cre­at­ing a track record in Bos­ton and China. And if we do that well, I want to rein­vent Las Ve­gas one more time.”

Steve Wynn in­creased his stake in the Golden Nugget in 1973, be­com­ing the youngest casino owner in Las Ve­gas.

above: Wynn started in Down­town Ve­gas with the Fron­tier and the Golden Nugget, fol­lowed by the Mi­rage, Trea­sure Is­land, and Bel­la­gio on the Las Ve­gas Strip. Wynn Las Ve­gas ( right) opened in 2005, Wynn Ma­cau in 2006, and En­core in 2008.

The spew­ing vol­cano in front of the Mi­rage be­gan an era of show­man­ship along the Las Ve­gas Strip.

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