Wed 15 Jul 2015
James Packer is gathering his Las Vegas lieutenants: Andrew Pascal, left, and Todd Nisbet.
It’s the battle of the casino billionaires: ageing Las Vegas kingpin Steve Wynn versus Australian gaming tycoon James Packer.
Wynn is perhaps best known for developing the vast Bellagio resort in Vegas in the late 1990s, which at the time was the most expensive hotel in the world.
He’s since built Wynn Resorts into an $US11 billion ($15 billion) giant, with casinos spread from Vegas through to Macau.
Packer, the chairman and half-owner of the $10 billion Crown Resorts, has an empire spanning from Australia to Macau and London.
The one piece missing? A presence in Sin City.
After announcing plans last year to build a Vegas casino by 2018, Packer has steadily been raiding Wynn’s top executives as he looks to challenge the US businessman with an 1100-room integrated resort dubbed Alon that could cost the gaming magnate more than $US4 billion.
First Pascal, now Waits
After snaring the executive who used to run Wynn’s Vegas operations, Andrew Pascal, Packer has now reportedly lured the most successful US nightclub operator as part of his team.
Jesse Waits, the man behind Wynn’s XS and Tryst nightclubs, quit the casino operator over the weekend. Packer is understood to have secured him in a role as part of the Alon venture during a visit to Vegas in early July.
Waits opened XS in 2009, turning it into the top grossing club in the country, booking about $US105 million annually in revenue.
Waits, whose twin brother Cy once dated Paris Hilton, claimed to be generating profit margins of 70 per cent compared with the 30 per cent industry average.
After starting his career as a bartender, Waits built the XS and Tryst club scene into one of the strip’s most popular and profitable venues by securing exclusive residencies with DJs including Avicii, David Guetta, Diplo and Skrillex.
In a recent interview, Waits admitted Mr Wynn’s level of attention to detail kept him on his toes.
“When I see him, I have everything, all my numbers, my profit and loss, and my margins. Whereas before, it wasn’t really part of my program. He wants to know the bottom line and what the margin is, how many pixels are in the LEDs, who’s the DJ. He has so many questions and if you slip, you feel like a fool.”
Links to Wynn
The bulk of Mr Packer’s Vegas team hold links to the Wynn empire.
Mr Pascal, the nephew of Mr Wynn’s ex-wife, Elaine Wynn, spent several years working with Crown’s strategy and development boss, Todd Nisbet. Recent Alon recruits Rob Oseland and Jennifer Dunne also worked for Mr Wynn.
Mr Packer is developing the lavish complex after buying land on the strip at a cut-price $US280 million price tag nearly a year ago in a deal with hedge fund giant Oaktree Capital Management.
Las Vegas remains a risky bet for Mr Packer, who was burnt badly by a previous US foray, where Crown was forced to write down more than $2 billion after a series of ill-fated deals.
Crown is slated to spend $US10 billion on a string of casino resorts by the end of this decade, including Studio City, due to open in Macau by October, and the $1.5 billion Crown Sydney resort in 2019.
Crown is also vying with Echo Entertainment for the rights to build the Queen’s Wharf development in Brisbane with a winner to be named in coming weeks.