Developer highlights strengths of Strip operators

The Strip is back, Steve Wynn said Monday.


The creator of The Mirage and Bellagio said the big Las Vegas casino operators emerged from the turbulent past year stronger, leaner and ready for a rebound.


“These were strong companies before Sept. 11 (2001),” Wynn said. “They were forced to deal with the aftermath of 9/11 and become more efficient. Because of the sharp drops in revenue, necessity was the mother of invention. The top companies now are all very strong, and they’re performing.”


Wynn is waiting for a federal government OK that would allow his company to sell stock to the public. Proceeds from the sale of as much as $408.3 million in Wynn Resorts stock would fund his $1.85 billion Le Reve megaresort and possible casino development in the Chinese enclave of Macau.


Wynn declined to discuss his company, the Le Reve project and its financing or Macau, citing a Securities and Exchange Commission-mandated quiet period that follows an application to sell stock to the public.


He agreed to share his thoughts on a range of issues facing the UFABet casino business as the industry’s biggest trade show, the Global Gaming Expo kicks off at the Las Vegas Convention Center.


The 60-year-old megaresort developer said the casino business shouldn’t thump its chest about Wall Street analysts who tout the casino industry’s relative transparency compared with other scandal-tainted businesses.


“I don’t take any comfort from that,” he said. “What does that mean? ‘Congratulations. You’re not a crook.’ ”


Wynn said he wasn’t surprised by the booming Southern California tribal gaming market, noting that San Diego and Palm Springs-area casinos don’t directly compete with Las Vegas-style megaresorts.


The biggest Southern California tribal casinos are locals casinos, just like Green Valley Ranch and the Suncoast are locals casinos in greater Las Vegas, he said.


The modern Las Vegas megaresorts won’t lose much business to their Southwestern competitors, but the less-successful properties that target frequent trips by middle-income gamblers could suffer.


“These places affect the marginal (Las Vegas) properties much more than the successful ones,” Wynn said.


Wynn was skeptical about prospects for U.S. casino operators to cash in on the Internet gambling business, questioning where the revenue would come from.


“I’m more confused by Internet gaming than I am titillated by it, and not from a lack of trying,” he said. “The only way I can see to make a living on the Internet is to take business from the U.S.”


The Justice Department recently advised Nevada gaming regulators that the Bush administration considers all Internet gambling to be illegal.


Nevada regulators are trying to decide whether to write rules allowing state casinos to operate Internet gambling sites, and Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander recently said the Justice Department official’s letter effectively forbids Nevada operators’ Web casinos from taking bets from the United States.


“There’s three kinds of places,” Wynn said. “Places where (Internet gambling is) legal, places where it’s illegal, and places where it’s not illegal. I’m not sure about a plan that relies on business from places where it’s not illegal.”