Steve Wynn addresses International Gaming Conference, returns to Mirage resort

Steve Wynn gives the opening keynote address, “Welcome to The Mirage: Reflections on a Quarter Century of the Reinvented Casino Resort,” on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, at the International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking presented by UNLV’s International Gaming Institute at The Mirage. [KSNV]

There are now newer and taller resorts, but few opened with the splash that happened on the Strip in 1989. It was the Mirage.

"Opened on November 22. I was so insecure I felt we should advertise the day before in the Review-Journal," said Steve Wynn, the vision behind the resort that ushered in a wave of reinvention."

Wynn was the keynote speaker this morning at the 16th International Conference of Gambling and Risk Taking, presented by UNLV's International Gaming Institute. For Wynn, this was a homecoming of sorts, speaking before hundreds of gaming insiders.

"We asked this gentleman if he would return to the Mirage, which he does not habitually do anymore," said Bo Bernhard, the Institute's Executive Director.

For an hour, Wynn held court as only Wynn can: unfiltered, unscripted, brilliant and outspoken.

About that day almost 27 years ago when the Mirage was Las Vegas' new jewel, "75,000 hit this building the first day. It was awful. Awful. Couldn't move," Wynn said, adding, "but it was a phenomenon because of what it was. It wasn't about gaming. It was about the place."

The Mirage amplified what Wynn learned at his first resort, the Golden Nugget. The lesson was that gaming would diminish as an attraction. Wynn learned customers wanted something more, an experience.

Prior to the Mirage, Caesars Palace raked in the most gaming revenue at $400 million a year. Then in 1989, a record breaker.

"We opened the place, and bang, it (the Mirage) went to $500 million. The glass ceiling got shattered by over $100 million dollars. What was very little known at the time, or taken note of, was the fact the non-casino revenue in this 3,000 room hotel was $600 million. The first hotel ever built in the world with 3,000 rooms. People said that we couldn't make it, that it was too much expense. They completely misunderstood the model," Wynn said.

He would say it often Tuesday morning, "The driver in our business is the non-casino, the non-casino activity. The driver in our business is the experiential value of the enterprise. Get it. Understand it," Wynn told the conference.

The Las Vegas of 2016 understands that completely. Non-gaming revenue outpaces slots and tables. There is dining and shopping.

"Las Vegas is a shopping mecca. Who would have dreamt it 20 years ago," Wynn asked.

And, there are clubs catering to 30-somethings and millennials. They make resorts millions, including Wynn's.

"I'm one of those old white guys that think the millennials are sort of short on brains," Wynn said to chuckles. "But in the meantime, we're doing well with them. We put the little darlings in the nightclubs and they get drunk and they give us a ton of money and it's probably the only part of my business where I have cognitive dissonance," he added. "I walk into the clubs and I say to myself either we have attracted every moron in the world, or there's something about the sound that allows normal people to check their human sensibilities at the door."

"We've made $40 million a year with the damn things. I guess we gotta put up with it," he said.

While the Mirage upped the game in shopping and dining, its biggest contribution was something more profound, according to Wynn. "The real important thing about this building is it showed everybody that a town that was limited about $100 million a year for hotels - that you could spend $630 million in Nevada safely."

At $630 million, the Mirage was the most expensive resort built at that time.

"That here in Las Vegas, it had the power to take big capital investment," said Wynn.

Wynn sold the Mirage to MGM Resorts in 2000.

During questions, Wynn broached some current Las Vegas topics.

About the dormant Fontainebleau, the unfinished blue behemoth on the north end of the Strip, shuttered since the recession, "nobody likes an eyesore and an unfinished building in that kind of shape is certainly an eyesore. We can all hope that something happens to it," Wynn said.

Recent reports said a deal may be near and the Fontainebleau may have a buyer. "Heard a few rumors. Nothing substantial that I can add to," Wynn told the crowd.

About the economy, "America is in the process of experiencing a very limp-wristed recovery," Wynn said. "The administration is doing everything it can to look good. It isn't good," he said. "Las Vegas is holding its own," he added.

The UNLV conference runs all week at the Mirage.

"In this conference, I know you're dealing with problem gaming. I have a problem with gaming. There's not enough of it," Wynn said.

As for his success, and the city's, it's simple, says Wynn.

"What's going on here is giving people what they want."

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