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Will Vegas glitz play in Boston? Wynn Resorts will soon find out


WYNN Resorts Ltd is about to find out how well Vegas plays in Boston.

After holding discussions to sell its US$2.6 billion Massachusetts project to MGM Resorts International - talks that sparked an outcry from local officials - the company has decided to keep the property. When it opens next month, Encore Boston Harbor will be the flashiest casino on the East Coast.

The Wynn style - with its floral sculptures, modern art and emphasis on high-end dining - hasn't always travelled well. Founder Steve Wynn struggled with the Beau Rivage, which he opened in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1999. It's now owned by MGM. Encore Boston Harbor brings Vegas-inspired glitz to a city of cobblestone streets, elite universities and granite buildings.

Still, observers expect the property to have a successful debut.

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"Since the Wynn strategy is to depend on less than 50 per cent of the revenue to come from gambling, the Boston market will probably be quite successful at least in the short run," said Richard McGowan, who studies the casino industry at Boston College. "The issue of sports betting will also be huge in the sports-crazy Boston area."

The new resort - located in Everett, a Boston border town along the Mystic River - will have a number of hallmarks familiar to patrons of Wynn casinos in Las Vegas and Macau.

Encore will feature 15 restaurants and bars, including Sinatra, an Italian restaurant sanctioned by the late singer's family. The company also will import many of the famous DJs it works with in Las Vegas for parties at Encore's nightclub, and has convinced Massachusetts officials to extend the last call for drinks at the casino by two hours to 4 am.

The Las Vegas-based company expects to do a good bit of business with international clientele, including Asian parents dropping off their children at Boston's many colleges.

Encore will include its Chinese restaurant concept, Red 8, among its eateries. But it also will tip its hat to local cuisine: Encore's steakhouse will feature lobster rolls, though they'll come with shaved black truffles and caviar.

Although Wynn and MGM are rivals on the Las Vegas Strip, they have distinct styles and their approaches in Massachusetts underscore that. MGM's casino in Springfield operates in a working-class town, about two hours from Boston. That property cost less than half as much to build.

Both companies are pitching themselves to Boston sports fans, but in different ways. MGM is the official casino sponsor at Fenway Park, a deal that includes signs visible to all the fans. Wynn, on the other hand, will entertain high-rollers in a Fenway skybox, which it has decorated in the same glitzy fashion as the new Encore resort.

It has also lined up a private booth at TD Garden for Celtics games. When Encore Boston Harbor opens at the end of June, R&B greats Earth Wind & Fire will entertain the VIP party.

Analysts generally believe Encore will be a hit. Brian Egger of Bloomberg Intelligence estimates the property could earn US$230 million on revenue of US$730 million annually when fully operational.

But Wynn still has some loose ends to tie up before opening day.

Executives haven't signed off on demands by the state gaming commission that the company be subject to an independent monitor, who will ensure it adopts the best corporate practices. That requirement followed a year-long investigation into the company's handling of sexual harassment allegations against former chief executive officer Steve Wynn. BLOOMBERG

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