Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009 | 1:01 p.m.
It is the onstage news conference where Steve Wynn is announcing Garth Brooks’ residency at Encore Theater. Wynn is dressed in a dark blue blazer, open-collared and faintly striped shirt, blue jeans and gleaming black boots. At times, he speaks with a hint of a Southern drawl, possibly owing to the verbal affectations of the thickly accented Brooks, seated at Wynn’s right.
The resort mogul is asked how this seemingly odd mix of Wynn and country music will be accepted. He leers toward the crowd, clearly prepared for this question.
“I’m the guy at the Golden Nugget who had Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers -- you remember that?” Wynn asks. “Barbara Mandrell. ... I started it.”
Applause from hundreds of Brooks fans in the theater causes Wynn to pause. Then he adds, “I’ve been a roper and a header, a team roper, even had a PRCA card for a while.”
Wha-a? Steve Wynn: Resort mogul. Art collector. Avid skier … and lasso-totin' cowboy?
I checked into Wynn’s history with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, currently in town for its annual spur to the economy with the National Finals Rodeo, and talked to him about this unexpected disclosure during the days after the Brooks news conference in October. The PRCA’s records, both online and paper documentation, show no Steven A. Wynn listed as a formal PRCA Contestant Card-holder, but a representative of the rodeo organization did say that it was likely he held a PRCA-issued permit to compete in smaller regional events (PRCA doesn’t keep permanent files on those documents). You need such a permit to apply for an official PRCA Contestant Card is how the process works.
Whichever, Wynn does rightfully boast a strong connection to the sport and rodeo culture, a link that dates back to the 1970s at least, covering the time Wynn owned Golden Nugget and had ignited his resort empire. At the time, Wynn was friends with Ralph Lamb, the famed Clark County sheriff whose suburban house off Smoke Ranch Road was equipped with such ranch amenities as stables and a ring for steer roping.
Wynn housed two horses, Chicaro and Spider, on the property. Chicaro was a gift from Darwin Lamb, a former Clark County commissioner and one of 11 siblings in the iconic Lamb family. Spider was given to Wynn by Benny Binion.
“I was a header in team roping out at Ralph Lamb’s house when there was nothing near Ralph Lamb’s house, and we had a whole bunch of competitions out there,” Wynn said in subsequent phone conversation, during which he also took a smoldering brand to ticket brokers trying to scalp Brooks tickets. “We had an organization here, and I do remember the PRCA being involved. I had a ball doing it, but it was really dangerous.”
The header’s responsibility in team roping is to make a “catch” on the steer around both horns, around one horn and the head or around the neck. This is accomplished while the header is seated atop a sprinting horse -- Spider was Wynn’s best. But even the best horse can’t ward against the sport’s wear and tear.
“I got my hand caught once, I’ve lost some skin, and I know guys who lost thumbs in competition,” Wynn recalled. “I got thrown over a steer once and was hit by a horn –- pop! It was a very physical sport, and you don’t last long in it. I was in it for about five years.”
A few of Wynn’s famous friends made it out to Lamb’s property. “Jimmy Caan was a great healer,” Wynn said. “Spider was just loved by Willie Nelson.”
Wynn says during that period, he spent five days a week at the ranch. “In those days, you could just saddle up, and it would be me and Willie, riding from the barn into nothing but sunset.”
It seems the 67-year-old Wynn genuinely misses those days.
“I still ride, but not like I used to,” he said. “Now I just joust with ticket brokers.”
A memorial party was to be held today for Mike "Bear" Forche, who for decades was Wayne Newton’s right-hand man and bodyguard. Bear died Wednesday at age 61 of pancreatic cancer. I met Bear about 10 years ago, and the night I met him, we talked for a very long time about football handicapping. He loved that, and was great at it, and over the years was practically a member of the Newton family. … The Pub at Monte Carlo was a numbing clash in genres this weekend, as Zowie Bowie performed its regular hip-hop set onstage, and near the entrance of the club, rodeo fans lined up to ride the mechanical bull. … Also at Monte Carlo, I really appreciate Lance Burton, his show and all he stands for, but that new campaign where he’s a darkened “Menacing Lance” seems not to hit the mark. … Hint: Watch “Amazing Race” tonight for a quite recognizable local landmark as the race’s finishing point. … Kym Johnson has not been back in Las Vegas since winning the “Dancing With the Stars” championship with Donny Osmond, appearing on Broadway in “Burn the Floor,” a ballroom dance show at Longacre Theatre. … The Robby Gordon sighting at Wasted Space at the Hard Rock Hotel last night makes perfect sense if you know that the driving star -- and Gordon is one of the most versatile drivers ever -- is close friends with HRH President Randy Kwasniewski and helped train Randy’s racing son, Dylan, on driving techniques. … Luxor and Excalibur President Felix Rappaport’s new mustached look has him resembling a modern-day D’Artanian, and I am one who finds that entirely appropriate. … In the face of the darkening of “Peepshow” during January at Planet Hollywood, another BASE Entertainment production, “Jersey Boys” at Palazzo, is rumored to be inching prices up. … More from Sammy Hagar in a subsequent blog, but on Friday -- the day of his opening party at Cabo Wabo Cantina at Miracle Mile Shops -- Hagar said the original plan to open the club next to Margaritaville at Flamingo never materialized. “If Jimmy Buffett opened a Margaritaville next to a Cabo Wabo, I’d be pissed, so out of respect for him, we looked at other spots.” Those included Caesars Palace as part of that hotel’s since-suspended expansion plans. Hagar's Chickenfoot outfit was in action at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel last night, and unlike Morrissey the night before, no one complained that the band abruptly bolted the stage after playing for an hour … Former Hard Rock Hotel exec Yale Rowe’s plans now that he’s leaving the resort are to head up a marketing agency with a national scope. … Observations from the Mandarin Oriental opening: UNLV President Neal Smatresk is considering new, hipper eyeglass frames (he makes a lot of personal appearances, this man). Maybe that'll help his vision in selecting an athletic director who actually knows something about Las Vegas. … Donna Wishna, wife of Jack Wishna of Newton and Trump deal-making fame and a fine person in her own right, really loves chocolate, and not in an unhealthy way. ... The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being ranking of happiness, which rates Nevada as the country's 38th happiest state, has me really depressed.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.