Las Vegas Sun

September 1, 2014

Steve Wynn opens his latest Treasure

Esteban Geraldo's eyes lit up as cannons boomed from a pirate ship and sank a British frigate in front of Las Vegas' newest resort.

"I've lived here 18 years and I've never seen anything like that," Geraldo said after watching the pyrotechnic sea battle outside Treasure Island.

The Geraldo family was among the first 1,000 customers to enter the $430 million resort shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Some didn't get to see the swashbuckling sea battle between the HMS Brittania and the Hispaniola, but they were impressed with the 2,900-room resort just the same.

"I think it's gorgeous," said Sharon Norris of the casino's interior. "It's such a high class place. It's where you want to be."

Norris, from Nashville, Tenn., said she and her husband planned their vacation this week specifically because of the opening. It paid off, at least for a little while, because she won $150 only minutes after sitting down at a $5 slow machine.

Typical of a casino opening, many people rushed in to play video machines on the belief that more jackpots hit on opening day.

Although the resort advertised that it was opening at noon today, people lined up to get inside following a press and VIP party that attracted some of the industry's biggest heavy hitters.

"I think seeing Kirk Kerkorian here shows how outstanding and event it is," said Bill Curran, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Kerkorian, the leading shareholder of MGM Grand Inc., which is building the 5,009-room MGM Grand Hotel and Theme Park set to open in December, lives in Los Angeles and makes few public appearances.

Junk bond king Michael Milken, who helped finance The Mirage Hotel, was there to watch longtime friend Steve Wynn open his newest resort.

"When I first met Steve in 1978, I thought he was another Walt Disney," Milken said. "I still think he is a Walt Disney."

Wynn, enthralled by the warm reception of his latest moneymaker, became as much a child as Robert Louis Stevenson's readers when the public crowded around Buccaneer Bay to watch the sea battle, which will occur seven times nightly. He left his VIPs to watch them view the full-size British ship sink beneath choppy waters.

"I love it whwen it goes to the big jury," a giddy Wynn said earlier Tuesday. "That's my favorite time, watching the first people go through the doors, watching their faces when they see the sea battle."

It was Wynn's second mega-resort opening in Las Vegas, and he vows it won't be his last.

"I intend to stay in this job," he said. "This is my life, my love, my career."

Wynn's next project is moving full speed just as Treasure Island opens. Mirage Resorts plans to implode the Dunes Hotel tonight to make way for his next resort.

"Starting Monday we go at it," Wynn said of plans for the Dunes property. "The next design project will be full tilt."

Mirage Resorts bought the Dunes in January and plans to develop a massive resort around a man-made lake. Wynn said he plans to construct the resort during 1995 and 1996, with an opening in late 1996.

Financing is not a concern, he said. He boasts that The Mirage and the Golden Nugget downtown are having record years. At the end of its third year, The Mirage is having its greatest month, he said.

"We've got a free cash flow of over $140 million a year," Wynn said. "Financing our own projects is effortless."

The new resort's plans aren't set in stone, but it could require the demolition of the newer Dunes tower, as well, Wynn said.

"You saw what they had to do at the MGM to use the Marina," Wynn said. "When you spend $1 billion on a hotel, it seems sort of foolish to let a $12 million high-rise tell you what to do."

Wynn said the south Dunes tower isn't in bad shape. But it would cost several million dollars to incorporate it into the design of the new resort, and it isn't in a desirable location, he said.

However, he warns that his plans for the design are still preliminary.

"We are still in the design phase," Wynn said. "It'll change 100 times."

Wynn's perfectionism can be seen at Treasure Island in everything from the sailing ships to the trunks of jewels tucked into the recesses of the ceiling.

He even changed the name of the British ship from HMS Sir Francis Drake to HMS Brittania after members of the black community suggested that Drake was a slave trader.

Such attention to detail has garnered Wynn respect in the viciously competitive industry.

"He does everything first class," said John O'Reilly, president and chief executive officer of Jackpot Enterprises.

Fringed tapestries adorn casino walls, ornate Moroccan mirrors hang in a fine restaurant and the latest in exercise equipment fills the spa.

The casino is adorned with antiques from around the world, according to the resort's tour guide.

Nevertheless, Wynn is the first to admit that aside from the $32 million sea battle, Treasure Island is just a hotel-casino.

"It's just a casino like The Mirage," he said. "Whatever is special about it will be decided by the customers."

The customers who will be making that decision likely will have smaller bank accounts than The Mirage customers. With two wedding chapels, carnival games and the absence of baccarat, Mirage Resorts is trying to gain a foothold in the market once cornered by Circus Circus.

In fact, Treasure Island will vie for the same visitors as Luxor, Circus Circus' pyramid-shaped resort that opened less than two weeks ago. Standard room rates are comparable, averaging around $75 a night.

The MGM Grand, set to open Dec. 18, is also seeking to lure families.

But its competition that Wynn said he doesn't fear.

"Las Vegas has demonstrated the agility of a young acrobat," Wynn said. "They are not just adjusting to the future, but are leaping into it."

The industry is making that leap with new types of entertainment, such as the sea battle at Treasure Island, Luxor's $50 million film attractions and MGM Grand's theme park.

"It's like early Christmas Eve," Curran said of the three resort openings. "You open presents one at a time, and every one is your favorite."

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