Wynn's purchase of Desert Inn could help smaller casinos

LAS VEGAS - Casino mogul Steve Wynn is known for big resorts and entertainment, but his purchase of the Desert Inn resort could bring back ''old Vegas'' and draw attention to smaller properties nearby, gambling analysts said Friday.

''It's good for Las Vegas because we keep the best operator we have had over the last 25 years,'' said Bill Thompson, a professor of public administration and gambling expert at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. ''It improves the Strip in the direction we've been going away from (and) will help perimeter properties.''

Wynn, the departing chairman of Mirage Resorts Inc., announced Thursday that he purchased the posh Desert Inn hotel-casino as a birthday present for his wife, Elaine. Her birthday was Friday.

Coincidentally, the Desert Inn celebrated its 50th year Monday.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, the owner of the Strip property, said Friday that Wynn acquired the resort, its golf course and an adjacent 32-acre parcel of prime undeveloped land for $270 million in an all-cash deal. The sale is expected to close by June 30, the company said.

The Desert Inn is a luxury hotel with 715 rooms and a 30,000-square-foot casino. By comparison, Mirage Resorts' showcase Bellagio has 3,000 rooms and about 120,000 square feet of casino space.

As it is today the Desert Inn doesn't feature over-the-top entertainment, like Bellagio's show ''O,'' or the pirate ship battle from Treasure Island.

What Wynn gets is one of the most established properties on the Strip. In addition to the storied Desert Inn, he get 32 prime acres to develop, the only golf course on the Strip and a chance to lure tourists away from the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard, where several new resorts have popped up in recent years.

''We know that Mr. Wynn will bring his magic to the property, and it will make this whole area of the Strip more inviting,'' said Jim Seagrave, spokesman for the Stardust, located diagonally from the Desert Inn. ''It will undoubtedly attract many people that perhaps have been spending time way down on the south end of the Strip.

''We just know it will be a fabulous resort. We can't help but benefit from it,'' he said.

John Neeland, spokesman for the nearby Riviera hotel-casino, said that with Wynn's purchase and the sale of the defunct El Rancho to Miami-based Turnberry and Associates, ''The north end will really be hopping.'' That sale has yet to close. The El Rancho is also on the north end of the Strip.

''With Mr. Wynn doing whatever he does, it will benefit this end. It's nothing but positive for everyone concerned,'' Neeland said.

Marvin Roffman, a casino analyst with Roffman Miller Associates, echoed that assessment.

''It would be good for the Strip because it draws attention to the north end,'' he said. ''I think it's a good move for him, and I'm sure he'll do very well with it. I'd like to see him put his creative talents to work.''

In comments to local newspapers, Wynn, who will make about $500 million before taxes from MGM's buyout of Mirage, said he and his wife plan to operate the Desert Inn for at least a year before making any major changes. One possible option: knocking down the existing hotel-casino and building a new one.

''There's (potential for) a whole city there,'' he said.

Wynn said the Desert Inn is the most important piece of real estate in the western United States.

The deal is contingent upon the completion of the MGM Grand Inc.'s $4.4 billion buyout of Mirage. Rumors that Wynn was interested in the Desert Inn have been circulating since he agreed to sell Mirage to MGM in March in a deal that also includes MGM assuming $2 billion in Mirage debt. That acquisition is expected to be completed before the end of the year.

James J. Murren, president and chief financial officer for MGM Grand, called Wynn a ''creative genius'' who will strengthen the Desert Inn, which in turn will strengthen Las Vegas.

''The centers of excitement have shifted up and down the Strip over the years,'' he said.

Thompson said he envisions the property as returning to ''old Vegas,'' where entertainers walked through showrooms to greet guests and gamblers stayed in smaller hotels.

''It's a casino that has really been the glamorous casino of Las Vegas. It was the ideal place, the elegant place. That fits right in with Steve Wynn,'' Thompson said.

''An entertainer could walk the casino floor and meet all high rollers in an hour. You can have some of that old-time Las Vegas. Steve Wynn would be excellent in this role,'' he said.


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