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"Winner Takes All" Is Down A Few Chips

As a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who covered Las Vegas, Christina Binkley had an excellent perch as the city's most powerful men triggered an epic wave of dealmaking.

As the casino industry consolidated, Binkley chronicled Kirk Kerkorian's takeover of Steve Wynn's Mirage Resorts, creating a company called MGM Mirage, today the biggest property owner on the Las Vegas Strip.

She sat ringside as MGM Mirage then swallowed Mandalay Resort Group, leading the professorial Gary Loveman, the chairman of Harrah's Entertainment, to acquire Caesars Entertainment, creating the world's largest casino company in terms of revenue.

Photos: Book People
And lastly, she followed the bombastic Wynn as he plotted his lucrative comeback and laid the foundation for another gambling empire.

Now that Binkley has washed her hands of Sin City, she's returned so to speak, detailing these high-stakes dramas in her new book, "Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman, and the Race to Own Las Vegas."

There's a lot to like about in "Winner Takes All." Binkley meticulously recounts the events surrounding these megabuyouts, capturing them without smothering the reader with impenetrable MBA jargon or dense descriptions that can too often stymie a good narrative.

While the book covers a lot of perfunctory ground such as the city's history and many of its well-known players and can feel a bit rudderless at times, she does unearth plenty of tantalizing tidbits that never found their way into other news stories.

However, this book is supposed to be about three men as the title suggests. But it's essentially about Wynn and Binkley's rocky relationship with him.

When she's not fawning over Wynn, describing him as a genius, she flays him without mercy. She talks about his flashy personality, his Vegas hair, his flamboyant swagger. She even insinuates that Wynn was once a Casanova.

In another example, she reports that he bought a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti for $7.3 million, using it to prop open a door to his office.

She delves deeply into Wynn's financial recklessness as a casino owner. She writes about him frittering away Mirage Resorts money on a host of jets and art, the latter his consuming and expensive passion. She produces documents that reveal his pettiness.

All this and more paints a very unflattering portrait of the man and his ego, one that rivals the size of his lavish casino "Wynn Las Vegas" that looms large over the Strip.

But if Wynn is flawed, so is "Winner Takes All." As a chronicler of Vegas, Binkley pays little respect to Sheldon Adelson, Wynn's nemesis and the third-richest man in the country behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

This is egregious. Adelson changed the way gambling companies do business in Las Vegas. He opened his Macau casino well before his competitors, including Wynn, knowing that the former Portuguese colony was a gold mine and would one day surpass Las Vegas in gambling revenues.

He continues to blaze paths around the world as his competitors can only watch with envy.

In fact, Binkley's treatment of Adelson is insulting. He's mentioned in passing like Wynn's cosmetic surgeries.

Binkley could argue that he's not a major part of the race to own Las Vegas because he only operates The Strip's Venetian and Palazzo and was a late comer to the city. But that's not acceptable. If money is power then Adelson is the most powerful man in Las Vegas.

Adelson also has a backstory worthy of telling.

Why Binkley dissed him isn't clear. It's also not clear who will read this book outside of casino executives, bankers with ties the industry, various media types and a few professors.

But if you want to get a better idea about who runs Las Vegas, Binkley's book is a good place to start.


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