Steve Wynn swears: His first reaction upon winning the Greater Boston casino license was a pang of sympathy for the company he had beaten, Mohegan Sun.
“We’re going to take their best customers,” said Wynn, the billionaire developer and chairman of Wynn Resorts, which last Tuesday won the state’s most coveted casino license over an entry from the Connecticut casino company. “It was a tough day for them; they needed this deal very badly.”
Wynn is already turning his attention to luring those customers, by preparing for construction of his $1.6 billion gambling resort in Everett. He stopped in Boston on Friday to look for office space for a development headquarters, and to share with state regulators renderings of new hotel designs.
“It’s a sexy high-rise,” Wynn promised with a wide grin, during a Globe interview Friday at Bricco restaurant in the North End, his first extended comments since winning the state’s most lucrative gambling license. The restaurant was closed to the public, but not to Steve Wynn.
It seemed like a different Wynn than the brash CEO who quarreled in public with Massachusetts regulators last year, and skewered his opponent’s project with biting criticism before the state gambling commission.
He sounded conciliatory on Friday, grateful to have won the opportunity to build in the Boston region, and eager to reboot a chilly relationship with Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston.
“I’m going to go make friends with the mayor,” Wynn said. “I’ve got to be his guy. We’re spending a billion-six here — if it’s a nickel, it’s a billion-six. I’m his best incoming businessman, this company, and I can’t function without him.
“It has got to be a relationship that’s constructive and positive. And why not?”
It was Wynn’s first trip to Boston since his plan for a gambling resort on the Mystic River waterfront won a dramatic 3-to-1 vote from the state gambling commission, over a Mohegan Sun proposal at Suffolk Downs in Revere.
The ramifications of Wynn’s selection are already being felt: Suffolk Downs management announced that New England’s last thoroughbred racetrack track will close, ending an era after 79 years.
At the same time, the commission’s vote elevated the 72-year-old Wynn, a celebrity businessman and a living symbol of Las Vegas glitz, into one of Massachusetts’ most important corporate figures, who in several years would be one of the state’s largest employers.
He promises to create, for the Boston area, “The first real grand hotel built in decades.”
It will be the kind of hotel, he said, that can no longer be built: “The high cost of construction and the price people are willing to pay for a room with hotels.com and Expedia just don’t match up anymore.”
Wynn said he can afford to build such a hotel because it will have a profitable gambling room attached.
‘I’m going to go make friends with the mayor. I’ve got to be his guy.’Steve Wynn, speaking of Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston
His victory in the casino license sweepstakes came after months of meticulous review by consulting teams led by the state gambling commission, and then five days of commission deliberations conducted entirely in public.
Wynn said he watched the live Web cast of the final deliberations at home in Las Vegas, at the Wynn and Encore casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip.
He won the license on economic factors: a larger projected workforce, bigger payroll, greater construction investment, and a stronger capital plan for the project. Wynn said he had expected his company’s financial strength would be a big advantage for his proposal.
“In order for this to be a stable deal, one of the criteria should be that it can withstand an economic downturn,” Wynn said, adding he was pleased the commission agreed. “Capital structure isn’t an eyeshade economic thing: It’s about your ability to protect your workforce and your service levels.
“The minute you do any layoffs you might as well lay off the whole joint because everybody forgets about the customer and worries about their job security.”
On the downside, Wynn’s proposal did not score as well in the commission’s review of the building design, a portion of the review led by commissioner James McHugh.
McHugh, a former judge, said during the deliberations that Wynn’s hotel design lacked the imagination of the company’s best projects.
“The judge was right,” Wynn admitted Friday.
Wynn said the new drawings he left with the commission — which he declined to share publicly until they are final — “look like a slinky version of Las Vegas.”
His Vegas complex is known for its signature bronze glass, but Wynn is open to trying something new in Massachusetts. “I want to hear what the judge says about the color,” Wynn said. “It’s either bronze or it’s blue, light blue glass. I’m giving everyone [on the commission] a chance to give their opinions, since we are partners.”
Another factor in Wynn’s victory was a promise to leverage his 5-star brand and relationships with big international gamblers to bring new money into the local economy from outside the region.
Keeping that promise just got easier, he said, due to announcements by Cathay Pacific Airways and Hainan Airlines of new nonstop flights between Boston and Hong Kong and Beijing.
“It’s as if to say God is on our side,” said Wynn, with chuckle and a skyward glance. “That announcement made the deal worth 10 percent more. You have no idea what a big deal this is.”
Wynn already pays airfare to bring big customers from Asia to the United States, which is standard operating procedure for a major Las Vegas casino.
“First-class airfare,” he noted.
His company then uses a private Gulfstream G450 jet to shuttle the gamblers from West Coast airports to Las Vegas, and back.
“That’s what my G450 does, virtually 100 percent of the time,” Wynn said. “Now we’re talking about nonstops to Logan Airport, 12 minutes from my hotel? There ain’t no G450 now. We’re talking about a limo!”
There is still a political impediment for the project: Question 3 on the November ballot would repeal the state’s casino law and ban the industry from the state. Penn National Gaming, which won the state’s sole slot parlor license, and MGM, which has been promised the Western Massachusetts resort casino license, are helping fund a campaign to defend the casino law.
Wynn has not decided if the company will participate, though he said he is glad the question is on the ballot.
“If there is a vocal group that is antigaming, that has to affect regulators and everybody else, whether they admit it or are aware of it or not,” he said. “It colors our presence. The idea that the citizens of Massachusetts are actually going to speak on the subject makes life simpler.”
He has been inclined to stay out of the referendum, though he is considering whether Wynn Resorts, as a chosen Massachusetts casino operator, owes it to the Legislature to stick up for the industry.
The company will exercise an option to buy the proposed casino site in Everett as soon as the referendum is over, presuming the casino law survives. Wynn’s land deal became one of the most scrutinized aspects of his project, after state investigators discovered that the sellers may have undisclosed partners with criminal records.
Wynn slashed the purchase price to a market rate, to deny any secret partners a premium from a rich casino company. The gambling commission approved the arrangement.
The land is a polluted former Monsanto chemical site and needs substantial cleanup. The company expects cleanup to start by the end of the year.
Wynn was amazed to see the gambling commission last week hash out such a momentous decision in public, which he said is unheard of in the industry.
When he finally won, “I turned to my wife, [Andrea,] and I said, ‘Oooh, Mohegan Sun, tough day.’ ”
He thought next about his family, he said, which has deep Massachusetts roots, in Revere, dating to before Wynn’s father changed the family name to escape anti-Semitism.
“After I got through thinking about Mohegan Sun, I said to Andrea, ‘Can you imagine my mom and dad, my cousins—what they’d be thinking?’ ” Wynn said. “That Stevie — Mickey Weinberg’s son — is going to have a hotel casino in Boston.”