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They burned the Monte Carlo ... and may get away with it
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They burned the Monte Carlo ... and may get away with it
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First of all, I owe an apology to Steve Friess for having flippantly suggested that he was carrying water for Steve Wynn in his USA Today review of Christina Binkley's Winner Takes All. Rightly, he takes umbrage: I impugned his integrity and I shouldn't have. I'm sorry.
Moving on to the book, its portrayal of Wynn is so deeply unflattering that the casino mogul ought to send an apology and bouquet of roses to John L. Smith, whose must-read [if Wynn-infuriating] Running Scared paints a picture of a more balanced and sagacious Wynn than does Binkley's book.
Admittedly, my initial impression of the USAT piece -- and that of other readers, I should add -- was of a stinging critique. Upon rereading, I find this not to be the case. Memory is a treacherous thing. (As to the near-schizoid discrepancy between the tenor of Friess' USAT and Las Vegas Weekly reviews, I have to go with Galley Cat's take. Sorry.) Vexed as Wynn might be with the Binkley book, with or without having read it (he supposedly hasn't), he wouldn't find much comfort in the USAT review.
As far as Friess' principal conceptual criticisms, he and I agree on one, sort of agree on another (for wildly different reasons) and disagree on a third. As S&G readers (and "Vegas Gang" podcast listeners) know I feel, the near-total absence from the narrative of Sheldon Adelson presents a gaping hole. It's like writing a history of the Second Iraq War and omitting the role played by Dick Cheney. (Proud ultra-hawk Adelson might actually find that analogy flattering, even if others wouldn't.)
There's a massive chasm where Sheldon ought to be, especially given his role as Wynn's arch-nemesis, their antithetical business models and Adelson's role in storming the Macao beachhead (way before either Wynn or MGM Mirage deployed their battalions). In my time here (i.e., 1999-present), there have been three transformative figures in the Las Vegas casino industry: Wynn, Adelson and George Maloof. The latter is -- at best -- marginal to the story Binkley is trying to tell but Adelson's role is integral. Or should be.
As for Terrence Lanni, he comes across as an enigmatic and mandarin-like figure -- and I think he likes it that way (pure speculation, of course). His efforts in the realm of promoting diversity get short shrift, but I don't find his portrayal as slipshod as Friess does. Either way, Lanni's Man of Mystery aura remains intact.
Neither of us cares for the depiction of Gary Loveman -- for completely divergent reasons. Friess thinks it extremely unflattering, while I'm 180 degrees the opposite. The near-saintly Loveman in Binkley's pages may well exist, but he doesn't correspond with either the Loveman I've met nor the one described to me by ex-Harrah's employees. (Yes, that's "ex-Harrah's employees," so you can take their opinions cum grano salis if you prefer.)
As for the three factual errors (including one typo) cited in the USAT review, they're picayune within the larger context of such an exhaustive book, IMO. Again, others might well disagree.
In a follow-up review in the Weekly, Friess adopts a harsher stance on Winner Take All, which includes a litany of 12 mistakes (some reprised from the USAT review and one which had already been spotlighted by UNLV's David Schwartz). I hadn't read this review until today because, well, I don't read the Weekly very often, even though it has some superlative writers (not just Friess but Josh Bell and Matthew Scott Hunter among them).
I won't argue with Friess' verdict of "surprisingly shoddy fact-checking and a disappointingly casual familiarity," though I'd argue it's nothing compared to, say, Super Casino. Then there's Bringing Down the House, which now stands accused of out-and-out fabrication. (Even some very hifalutin' academic books of my acquaintance have had far worse batting averages in the accuracy department. Editing is a dying craft, it seems.)
As for the "clichéd" title, Winner Takes All, yes, it is triteness cubed, but it may just as easily be the editor's choice as the author's. Such was the case with Jeff Burbank's License to Steal, which did a disservice and misrepresentation to an essential reference book.
All that said, I don't understand the vitriol aimed at Winner Takes All, which is a serious and informed book, one that provides a level of access and insight far beyond that to which Vegas-based scribes (Smith excepted) are generally privy.** By contrast, the mostly uninformative, cliché-ridden pablum of Tom Breitling's Double or Nothing seems to be getting a free pass. At least Double is printed in large, easy-to-read type, for which all of us who wear glasses -- me especially -- can be thankful.
Bottom line: Much as I disagree with Steve Friess sometimes, he's an exceptional, outspoken and enterprising reporter* (you don't get into Newsweek and USAT by being a couch potato like myself) and I done him wrong. Sorry about that. The floor is open to suggestions of an appropriate penance: sackcloth, ashes ...
The only form of penitence (and it's a harsh one indeed) that's off the table is watching eight episodes of Bionic Woman in one sitting. Been there, done that. (But at least I got paid for it.)
*--Sadly, we were never able to employ his talent as the Las Vegas Business Press, back before it became a vassal of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, because our freelance budget/rate was too stringent. It cost us some talented writers -- not only Friess, but I. Nelson Rose, too.
**--The linked David Schwartz review roughly approximates my own reaction to the book, except that he puts it into words far better than I do. Confounded Ph.Ds! :-)