Macau also still important

Wynn CEO says there is still "room for growth" in Vegas; company committed to UAE project, Massachusetts sports betting

Craig Billings, Wynn Resorts CEO.
2022-07-04
Reading time 4:26 min

Craig Billings, CEO at integrated resorts giant Wynn Resorts, has stated in a recent interview that the ongoing Las Vegas gaming resurgence is not a surprising development and that there is still room for growth in the premium end of the market. He also discussed the company’s planned project in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), remarking it implies “an amazing opportunity” for the business, and said Wynn remains committed to its Macau operations and iGaming in Massachusetts.

In conversation with The Nevada Independent, Billings, who was appointed to the role in November last year, tackled the post-pandemic rebound in Las Vegas. The State of Nevada has now posted 15 consecutive months of $1 billion+ in revenue as of the latest report, with a record May performance driven by venues located along the iconic Vegas Strip.

“We weren't surprised by the resurgence in Vegas,” Billings said. “I think others were surprised. All of the levers that you need to pull to be successful in Vegas have generally come back.” According to the executive, there is “certainly room for growth,” including within the segment in which Wynn operates, which is the premium end of the market.

In regards to whether the positive trend will continue, and if Wynn has plans for the empty land the company owns across the Strip -38 acres acquired in 2018-, Billings said it was “a question of timing,” with several factors playing into the cost to build and what the demand picture looks like. “We do have land across the street, but we have other plans for the company,” he told The Independent, seemingly shooting down immediate projects for the tract of land.

The executive also discussed the company’s upcoming $2 billion integrated resort in the UAE, set to be constructed on the man-made Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah. He called it “an amazing opportunity” for the company given the property’s opening -planned for 2026- would put 95% of the world’s population “within an eight-hour flight of the Wynn brand.”

“There has been tremendous modernization and progression in the UAE. The Dubai airport sees more than 80 million passengers a year. There's an amazing amount of inbound visitation from Europe, the Middle East, India and other surrounding countries,” Billings told the cited source. “We believe there will be a robust cash-based business like we have here. We see it as a real extension of our brand.”

The multipurpose integrated resort marks the largest-of-its-kind foreign direct investment in Ras Al Khaimah, one of the seven sheikhdoms in UAE. But the landmark announcement is also a watershed moment for the Gulf’s relationship with gaming, a region that has traditionally imposed stricter Islamic rules than other parts of the Middle East.

“It's a limited supply market. For the foreseeable future, we will be the only gaming in that area. The leadership is very forward-thinking and Ras Al Khaimah is a very progressive and thoughtful place where they do things with intention,” Billings stated. “We’re building on a portion of a man-made island and the rest of it is greenfield. There are plenty of opportunities to develop beyond that.”


Man-made Al-Marjan Island, future home to a Wynn resort

At an earnings conference in May, the company updated investors in regards to the UAE project, with Wynn having moved into the design phase. Given the country’s taste for modern and ambitious architecture, Billings now said the company isn’t taking the issue lightly, with a substantial portion of his time being spent with the design and development team. “We want to make sure that we get the offering correct,” he said. “You have customers at adjacent hotels and you have customers from Dubai. We will have customers from all over the world.”

Wynn’s efforts going forward also include its Wynn Interactive division, operator of the WynnBet app. While in January industry rumors pointed toward the company seeking to sell its online business at a “deep discount” in a fire sale, Billings -who was CEO of Wynn Interactive- in May said Wynn was still committed to its iGaming efforts, believing in longer-term results.

The product is now live in nine states, offering online gaming and sports betting at a time in which this segment is booming. But Billings sees an opportunity in Massachusetts, a state in which Wynn Interactive is not live because the market hasn’t launched yet: sports betting legislation is still in its final stages, with lawmakers working on a compromise bill.

“It’s an important one because that's essentially a new market, where we'll be running on day one,” he told The Nevada Independent. “We obviously have the land-based asset to bolster the business,” he added, in reference to Encore Boston Harbor, the company’s $2.6 billion resort in Everett. Still, the CEO sees an opportunity in other states, including California, where Wynn is one of seven operators backing a mobile sports betting ballot question for November.

Land-based plans going forward are varied for the company. Wynn Resorts has “told the world” that it’s interested in New York, according to Billings, who describes the Empire State as a market “with amazing demographics and inbound visitation.”

“I think we wouldn't be doing our shareholders their due if we didn’t consider New York,” he noted. “There are conversations going on in Texas and in Georgia. But those are multi-year events. You have to deploy your capital carefully.”

But as for existing properties, Encore Boston Harbor is the one set for expansion plans going forward. Wynn has acquired land near the venue -11 acres- with the intention to build a parking garage and a theater, along with potential food and beverage projects. Billings remarked the importance of the project, which will give Wynn the opportunity to supplement the location, which at its peak does not offer enough parking.

Elsewhere in the recent interview, the executive also said Wynn is committed to its Macau operations at a time in which the gambling hub has been in decline since January 2020. It is “an important part of where this company goes over the course of the next 10 years,” he described.

“I can't prognosticate when the market will fully reopen. What I can tell you is that the nature of visitation and the nature of the consumer will inherently shift through changes that have been made in the structure of the market,” he told The Independent. “The latent demand for Macau is undeniable. I remain excited about the long-term prospects for Macau.”

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