Casino mogul Steve Wynn tells gambling industry it's not about slot machines, it's experience

Steve Wynn had some advice. It hasn't been the gambling that's key to casinos' success. It's everything else.

That's why after he recently won the opportunity to build Boston's first casino-hotel, he said he has grand plans for a property that will feature an entry akin to those in Las Vegas, but will tuck slot machines and table games away.

The billionaire developer who has shaped the Las Vegas Strip offered that advice Tuesday night to a crowd gathered for the gambling industry's annual G2E Global Gaming Expo.

The industry has been rattled by troubles in Atlantic City. Four casinos have closed there this year, eliminating 8,000 casino jobs.

Competition has grown fierce as more states have legalized casino gambling. Industry leaders say an emphasis on non-gambling revenue sources including restaurants, shopping and entertainment is what will win the day for the industry.

"It was never the slot machines," he said. "The machines have no power unto themselves."

Finding those machines or table games is less of a challenge than it used to be as more casinos open across the country

"It's about things that give people a chance to live big," Wynn said. That's why they come to Las Vegas, he said. "If you give it to 'em, you're going to be OK."

Wynn listed some of his casino-hotel developments over the years — the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas, Mirage Hotel and Casino, Bellagio and Encore — that all carried a similar business lesson: visitors spent more outside the casino floor than they did on it. Not to say they didn't make significant wagers on table games and slot machines according to the gambling revenue figures Wynn also listed.

But the casino developer was pointing out what industry leaders have been seeing elsewhere in regions where the gambling business is struggling. Without a unique experience to keep visitors coming back, whether it was for a free shrimp cocktail from the Golden Nugget or a first-of-its-kind fountain show at the Bellagio, a casino might just be a "box with slots" near another box with slots, he said.

Talking about his several hundred million dollar investment to build the Mirage, Wynn mentioned the hotel's man-made volcano that erupts nightly.

"We started putting things in front of the building that didn't have a cash register in front of them," he said.

Sheldon Adelson, the CEO and chair of Las Vegas Sands Corp., is scheduled to speak to the conference Wednesday night.