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[The Strip Sense]

Casino execs: Why all the hatin’?

Vegas collegiality only seems to work in times of plenty

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Sheldon Adelson.
Las Vegas Sun

"There is an unwritten rule within the gaming industry: Don’t disrupt another casino operator’s grand opening."

Review-Journal gaming scribe Howard Stutz’s Sunday column about the decision by Boyd Gaming to issue its Station counter-offer on Aria’s opening day contained this hilarious line. It’s not hilarious because Stutz is wrong. He’s totally right. It’s hilarious because he wrote about Boyd’s untoward acts of last week, when he easily could have been talking about Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump, Phil Ruffin, Steve Wynn or even George Maloof.

As Stutz wrote, Boyd did themselves no favors dropping a bomb that would have been front-page news on a normal day last week. But at least Boyd didn’t try to steal the spotlight the same way Adelson, Trump and Ruffin did. Consider:

Adelson: He gave his once-ish-a-year in-depth interview to Forbes’ Matthew Miller on Aria’s opening day. It’s a fascinating exchange in which Adelson goes on about how important his Forbes billionaire’s list ranking is in a manner I’ve never heard any mogul speak. (He fell from No. 3 to No. 26, thanks to the plummet of Las Vegas Sands stock.) As for CityCenter? “Even though there is a lot of publicity about it, I haven’t heard anyone who’s seen it tell me it is going to be a winner. They have no strategy. They have no obvious plan. If they try to compete in the travel and tour business, they will cannibalize all their other properties, like the Bellagio. They don’t have a convention space big enough to make an impact. So they built it without a strategy. How ill-advisable is that?”

Trump: He went on Larry King Live on Aria Eve to declare CityCenter ugly, “an absolute catastrophe.” Norm Clarke of the R-J theorized that Trump was reacting to MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren’s remark to me for my L.A. Weekly opus that the Trump tower in Vegas is hardly prime-time stuff. Either way, MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman had probably the most hilarious comeback of the year, telling Norm of Trump, “I can hardly imagine anyone’s opinion that matters less than his.” That didn’t sit well with Trump, who couldn’t bear to give his competitor the last word. He dashed off a handwritten note to Norm that read: “The CityCenter is architecturally unappealing—It will be the biggest bust in the history of real estate—good concept but badly designed and really badly executed. Too bad.”

Ruffin: The owner of Treasure Island is painted in another Forbes piece (out this weekend) as something of a savior of CityCenter for buying the resort from MGM Mirage when they were desperate for cash. Ruffin’s happy to play that role, sure, but then he drops this completely buried bomb: “They have so many billions of dollars of debt on that project. They are going to have to make so much money every month just to service that debt. That’s going to force the MGM guys to go through a lot of pain again, and they’ll have to renegotiate their debt but probably also sell off another property or two. I’ve got at least $500 million in cash and loans I haven’t drawn down. And I’d love to own the Bellagio or Mandalay Bay.” Shame, really, that he’s putting Gilley’s in the TI when it would’ve been so great where that underperforming conservatory is, you know? But maybe he could get Cirque du Soleil to give him a “Cold Beer, Dirty Girls”-themed show for Mandalay Bay?

Wynn: Okay, so it’s not his fault that Rembrandt was auctioned off when it was, or that the New York Times figured out he was the likely buyer. So he makes headlines for apparently buying it for $33.2 million. But don’t tell me he’s displeased that he was in the news. He told Carol Vogel of the Times, “I’m not discussing it, I’m not acknowledging my paintings anymore.” You get that? He told her. He took that call just to be directly quoted as seeming modest and private. You don’t just get Wynn on the phone by accident. He chose to take that call, knowing what it was about, in order to say that.

Maloof: The least significant of these odd moments, Maloof lunched with the Forbes reporter, and that’s fine and dandy. But Maloof is known for being ultra-polite, very cagey with his opinions on everyone else, happy to be everyone’s friend. So it was startling to see him calling bullshit on his peers to Forbes: “Anyone who tells you they are expanding or improving on their existing property is lying. No one has any money right now to do that. We’re all just grinding it out, operating, trying to stay smart and ahead of it until things turn around.” It’s a strange statement because, in fact, the Hard Rock Hotel, Planet Hollywood and the Golden Nugget all have added new towers and attractions in the past few weeks. Are they imagining that?

Decorum? Collegiality? In Vegas? No, no. That only works when there’s enough fistfuls of cash to go around for everyone. That Vegas is in remission. These days, nobody can afford to play nice, can they? If hordes of business journalists are coming to town, it would be derelict not to flash something shiny at them and lure them your way!

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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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