Wynn keeps plans shrouded in secrecy - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

A curtain of secrecy has descended around Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn's new $2.7 billion, 2,716-room megaresort at the corner of Sands Avenue and the Strip.

Information that would normally be available for any other new development will not be shared with the public or the media until more than a week after Wynn Las Vegas' grand opening on April 28, Elaine Wynn's birthday.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas history department Chairman Hal Rothman believes Wynn is successfully controlling, or manipulating, the media presentation of Wynn Las Vegas, much to his and his property's advantage.

"Wynn's strategy is clearly to limit access to information about the property," he said. "Every (other developer has) sought publicity; Wynn has eschewed it. The result has been what he anticipated: a distinct heightening of expectations."

Not everyone is confident all the secrecy is part of a grand plan or, if it is, that it will work.

Jim Medick, chief executive officer of MRC Group, Nevada's largest market research and public polling firm, speculated that Wynn is simply reeling from the critical coverage he got when he went public with his initial public offering to finance Wynn Las Vegas 2 1/2 years ago.

"He's keeping his cards close to his chest, but ... he's being upstaged by (competing casino developer Sheldon) Adelson," he said.

Adelson has detailed development and public relations plans for his new Strip and Macau resorts, while Wynn, who also is building a resort in the Chinese enclave and recently announced plans for another resort adjacent to Wynn Las Vegas, appears to have no plan but is trying to make it sound as if he does, Medick said.

Still, Billy Vassiliadis, president of R&R Advertising and the gaming industry's chief marketer, said Wynn is a master of marketing and creating suspense to increase people's expectations.

"It's even evident in his passion for art. He knows the effect of an unveiling, and so he's doing that now," he said.

"(Wynn) told a little bit of the story; he unveiled a bit. He told a little more of the story and he unveiled a little more until the curtain rises," Vassiliadis said.

Typically, a month before a resort's grand opening, models and conceptual renderings would have been aired, photographs would be pouring out and project details would be well-known.

In Wynn's case, however, the public is being left in the dark about major features of the casino, the company's comp policy, gaming strategies, slot denominations, restaurants, recreational opportunities and the Franco Dragone stage show.

Furthermore, Wynn executives who asked not to be named said there have been major unexplained changes in the list of retailers and in the configuration of the convention and meeting space, neither of which are being released to the public.

Alan Mendelson, a Los Angeles television reporter familiar with the gaming and hospitality industries, said he is surprised by the secrecy surrounding the project.

"Sure, I understand there are competitive reasons. And I understand that Wynn might not want to tip off the world to his business plan. I also understand that he wants people to come inside his casino, but the level of secrecy has almost reached a point of silliness," Mendelson said.

Neither Wynn nor his executives would comment on the record about the level of secrecy that appears to be in place through the resort's opening.

This veiled approach is unusual for developers. But it is nothing new for Wynn. And it comes as little surprise to his executives, former associates and industry experts who have watched Wynn manipulate the media for years.

"Steve has remained steadfast in his secrecy for years. He first did it at The Mirage and it has been consistent ever since," a long-time Wynn associate said on the promise of anonymity.

Another former Wynn executive agreed, adding: "He doesn't believe in showing anything half-finished, and he believes that it builds anticipation."

Rothman said Wynn has consciously chosen to withhold information about the property to heighten the excitement about the resort's opening.

"He has decided -- and is depending on the fact -- that his cachet is strong enough to let the silence build anticipation rather than keeping the public in ignorance about the property," he said.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Bill Thompson, who specializes in gaming studies, said: "The veil of secrecy may be an intentional effort to generate some excitement. It may be a way to hide plans that haven't been finished yet, or are maybe subject to revision."

Will Wynn's approach work? Mendelson warns that secrecy can easily prove counterproductive.

"He is actually taking a big risk, because when Wynn finally opens to the public, the media might say, 'So what was the big secret?'"

Mendelson also warned that competing resorts such as Bellagio, Caesars Palace and The Venetian are likely to step up their public relations and promotions campaigns to take away Wynn's excitement.

"If he's saving his thunder, he'd better not save it for too long," he said.

However, Rothman thinks Wynn's plan will likely work despite media disdain.

"If the rumors about bookings we're hearing are correct, Wynn has become the leading brand in the gaming industry," he said. "But we won't know that for certain until the first postopening numbers are released," Rothman said.

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