It seems Las Vegas hasn't done enough for Steve Wynn


Billionaire casino boss Steve Wynn says he's seriously considering moving his company's headquarters to Macau, where he plans to build a third gambling palace.

Really.

"I love it out here," Wynn told a Reuters reporter in Macau. "I'm going to bring it (the potential relocation) up at our board meeting in May. But I have to persuade my staff first."

Persuade his staff? That's a good one. It's hard to imagine any Wynn employee standing up to the boss.

When BusinessWeek reporters followed up, Wynn gave them an earful:

"I don't think the Las Vegas market at the moment beckons a large investment. The economic outlook in the United States, the policies of this administration, which do not favor job formation, do not encourage investment at all."

I've noticed no Nevada elected officials or Chamber of Commerce members have blasted Wynn for kicking the Las Vegas economy while it's down. Although they chose their words carefully, for fear of offending the generous benefactor and formidable enemy, Nevada politicians seemed surprised by Wynn's comments.

Not me.

Wynn's inability to self-edit grows each year. It makes me wonder whether anyone on his board of directors ever whispers anything but affirmation in his ear.

It's hardly the first time Wynn has bellowed about how hard it is to do business. When the British failed to license him in the early 1980s, he screamed politics. When New Jersey regulators scrutinized his casino customers, he called it oppressive. When the going gets tough in Las Vegas, he enthuses over Macau, an outpost with almost no history of regulation.

Wynn's comments are not only offensive, they're also metaphorically inaccurate. You see, he doesn't really do much business in the United States.

He does business in Las Vegas, where casino barons rule and are treated with gushing adulation usually reserved for pop stars and pinup girls. Wynn has had the best of it here for decades.

When Wynn owned the Golden Nugget, he decided he needed to expand toward Carson Street. City fathers helped him close it.

When Wynn fell in love with the idea of swimming with dolphins, a federally protected species, Nevada politicians rallied to help him make the laughable argument that dolphins at a casino were really about giving Clark County schoolchildren an educational opportunity.

When Wynn's taste in art translated into a growing personal collection worth many millions, the Legislature couldn't wait to please him by passing the infamous "Show Me the Monet" art tax break.

The list is long and newsprint is expensive. The bottom line: Las Vegas has been very good to Steve Wynn.

And Wynn's resorts have been among the finest in Las Vegas history. He has put to work thousands of people and carved out a reputation as a visionary in a business where someone who can read a wine list is treated as if he has discovered the Salk vaccine.

Wynn does business in Las Vegas, where Gaming Inc. pays a 6.75 percent tax rate and casino bosses bray like thunderstruck donkeys when someone reminds them Mississippi casinos pay 8 percent, Atlantic City casinos contribute 9, and Louisiana riverboats pay 21.5.

Wynn claims he is sincerely considering moving his headquarters to Macau, an Asian mob-infested smuggler's paradise ruled by a communist government where casinos pay an aggregate 40 percent tax rate.

This is the atmosphere he says is less oppressive than the United States?

It's no secret Wynn is making a major score in Macau, where the Chinese control the flow of travel visas and have the ability to nationalize the casino industry at any time. It's also obvious Las Vegas, which has given Wynn everything he has ever asked, is struggling. Unlike Wynn, most locals can't cut and run.

If after all Las Vegas has done for Steve Wynn isn't enough to engender his loyalty, then there's only one thing left to do.

Help the ingrate pack.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.