Mirage chief: Indian casinos challenge Vegas

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LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas is about to be tested as never before by the spread of gaming to Indian tribal lands in its major customer market, California, according to Steve Wynn, chairman of Mirage Resorts. But it will be far from a death blow to the city, Wynn told delegates at the recent Nevada Governor's Annual Tourism Conference.

"Proposition 5 [the ballot measure in which California residents overwhelmingly approved Indian casinos] was a morbid kind of thing for Las Vegas," Wynn acknowledged. "A potential 150 or so gambling locations in a state where so much of our business originates is something to be understood, not ignored. But we have things in Las Vegas that enable us to withstand world economic downturns, the opening of gambling in Atlantic City, riverboat gambling and all the rest."

For one thing, Wynn said, Las Vegas has, or will have within the next year, an outlet for every major retailer in the world, from Nieman Marcus to F.A.O. Schwartz; a restaurant run by every major chef in the nation, and a slate of entertainment possibilities that cannot be matched by any Indian casino. "There are more shoppers, more eaters and more people going to shows than there are gamblers," Wynn said. "And the sooner we all start focusing on that and worrying less about the slot machines, the better."

Visitors did not start coming to Las Vegas for the gambling in the first place, Wynn claimed. "The draw was always the town itself, the exaggerated, totally lacking in subtlety, not exactly tasty but always exciting 24-hour-a-day party that is Las Vegas," he said. "It has always been the noncasino aspects of Las Vegas that has been the magnet -- the shops, the restaurants, the entertainment, the color, the excitement. Hardly anybody says, 'Let's go on vacation someplace where I can play video poker,' or 'I can't live another week without a crap game.' Gambling is fun once they get here, but it's not why they started coming."

Nevertheless, with all that it has going for it, Las Vegas must keep working "with imagination and a lot of courage" to maintain its place of preeminence in the tourist industry, Wynn said. "After this, anybody who thinks that the existence of slot machines gives Las Vegas some kind of privileged status is about even with the Model T Ford," he said.

"Proposition 5 will be challenged in court and may eventually have to be put to another vote. But Indian gaming in one form or another is here to stay," he added. "Riverboat gambling and Indian casinos are now to be found in 37 states."

The governor's conference -- which drew a record of more than 1,000 delegates -- was held in the new Bellagio Hotel, one of Wynn's Mirage Resorts properties.

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