Las Vegas wild card trashes Atlantic City - Friday 25th of April 2008

Sheldon Adelson, the richest man in Las Vegas, at a benefit for John McCain at the Venetian last week, slammed the idea of gambling and resort building in Atlantic City.

In characteristically blunt terms, Adelson, while talking about why his company (owners of Venetian and Palazzo) would never expand to Atlantic City, said:

"We think we are one of the most, if not the most, aggressive opportunists in gaming and integrated resort expansion in the world... We would not even consider Atlantic City. Never made any sense and never will make any sense."

Adelson also made local news in the same talk by casting aspersions on the motives behind MGM-Mirages plans to build a new resort in Atlantic City. Of course, a top MGM-Mirage executive was Adelsons co-host of the McCain fundraiser.

Unlike his more flamboyant rival, Steve Wynn, Adelson often flies bellow the radar, and not just nationally. Despite his incredible success here, Adelson is seen as an outsider and underrated, even among the elite group of resort owners on the Strip. Perhaps the best illustration of Adelsons contrariness is that he operates the only resort on the Strip that is non-union.

But I had assumed, considering Adelsons wealth and cranky quotability, that no accounting of "the powers that be" in Vegas could ignore Adelson. So, I was truly surprised that he was not given more attention in a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Christina Binkley, "Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman and the Race to Own Las Vegas."

Adelson makes only a few appearances in the book, which covers the time during which he built and opened the Venetian and pioneered expansion of Vegas gambling to Macau.

So, I got in touch with Binkley to ask her why she assigned Adelson such a small role in her book. Binkley told me:

"What I wanted to do with this book was take people who had really substantial stakes in Las Vegas at the time I was doing the book and were going to continue to do so in the future, in terms of Las Vegas growth. Sheldon Adelson has one significant property, and it is a very significant property; and he also brought one innovation to Las Vegas, which was not entirely new -- but he certainly made it make sense for everybody and did it in a bigger way -- and that was to use your convention center to fill your hotel rooms during the week. He is built out in Las Vegas. He doesnt have any more property left on the Strip to build on. The future growth of his company is really in Asia and the rest of the world. So, he would have been a great chapter. But I did not want to do a survey of all the great men and builders of Las Vegas."

Power and influence in Vegas is not all about size, just mostly about size. I respectfully disagree with Binkley about Adelsons crucial role in Strip politics and development.

Adelson, by being a wild card, has always been someone out there who other Strip executives could never count on to go along with the pack. And that has given him a huge voice in how the Strip works.

Though competitors on the Strip, the truth is that Wynn (Steve Wynn), Harrahs (Gary Loveman) and MGM-Mirage (Kirk Kerkorian), tend to agree on most common issues resorts share. Adelson has proved, again and again, totally comfortable being the one voice to destroy that united front, from union deals to room taxes. And as the voice of dissent, the one who sees things differently, Adelson is a force few on the Strip can ever really ignore.

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