Enter the Encore

Las Vegas’ biggest snowstorm in 30 years kept Courtland Campbell and his friends in town long enough to attend the opening of the $2.3 billion Encore on Monday night.

Security measures kept him in the cold an extra hour.

Steve Wynn’s newest property opened to the public at 8 p.m. Monday with nearly 800 people braving temperatures in the 40s and wind gusts along the Strip. Hundreds more waited inside along the hallway connecting Wynn Las Vegas with the newest property.

Campbell, who has been trying to get back home to Raleigh, N.C., since Wednesday’s snowfall, said he had heard about the opening and decided to check it out.

"We’d been hearing about it for a while, so we decided to come out," Campbell said. "It’s supposed to be a party or something. I’ve never been to a casino opening, so it’s new to me."

Although the casino opened at 8, Campbell and friends did not enter the building until a couple of minutes before 9 p.m. Encore security guards told the waiting crowd that the property was at capacity and that additional people would be let in as others left.

The opening caused only minor traffic problems along the Strip with Las Vegas police officers directing motorists.

Traffic backed up along the right lane at 7 p.m. as partygoers tried to enter the property. The property opened after a private party.

Once inside, Campbell, who usually gambles on Sun Cruises in international waters off the coast of South Carolina, said he was going to try his luck at the tables.

His patronage probably was needed. A quick count of 50 casino table games — from blackjack to roulette — found 10 of them empty at 9 p.m.

The wait in wintry temperatures didn’t bother Scott and Claire Graham, a couple from Scotland who are spending two weeks in Las Vegas.

"We saw the news this morning that this place was opening, and we’d never been to a casino opening," Scott Graham said. "We like Steve Wynn’s other building, so we just wanted to see the place and have a good time."

"It’s probably going to be one of the last one’s built for a long while," said Claire Graham, referring to the slowing economy.

The 2,034-room Encore opens as Wynn Las Vegas, which opened on April 28, 2005, is facing the same challenges as its Strip competitors: declining customer spending and visitor numbers.

Revenues at the 2,716-room Wynn Las Vegas declined 3.7 percent for the third quarter ended Sept. 30 and 9.7 percent the first nine months of the year, according to reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Property cash flow fell 24.8 percent in the third quarter and 31.1 percent in the first nine months on lower room rates.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman, who worked for Wynn during the openings of The Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio, said MGM Mirage officials will be keeping watch on how the competitor fares in this economy.

"We hope Steve Wynn does great with his new property," said Feldman, who joined MGM Grand after the $6.7 billion buyout of Mirage Resorts in 2000. "This is a very, very tough economy, and if anyone can get through it, he can."

While a competitor might be wishing him well, Wynn is cutting room rates to keep his two hotels filled.

Wynn told The Associated Press he has booked 60,000 room-nights since dropping rates last week at the two properties.

Those guests, most of whom signed up for visits next month, probably would have gone to properties down the street instead, he said.

"I want Encore filled and Wynn, and I’m sorry to everybody," Wynn said.

He said he would raise rates as the combined 4,750 rooms fill, getting as close to 95 percent as possible. Five percent of rooms, he said, are usually saved for high rollers.

"Better service, nicer rooms, better lighting," Wynn told The Associated Press in describing the hotel. "Themes that are corny get old quickly, but real and wonderful environments with great service are timeless."

Weeknights, a standard 700-square-foot suite at Encore is going for $159 in January, according to Encore’s Web site, with higher prices on weekends. That is down from rates easily $200 or more.

Midweek pricing at Wynn Las Vegas was as low as $149 per night, according to the Web site. The rate is a decrease from the third quarter rate of $261 per night, down from $272 per night in 2007.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

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