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Clash of the Titans

The price for the 170-acre casino site? One dollar. And thanks to a new law crafted by William Gormley, Atlantic City’s man in the State Senate, Wynn will be reimbursed for 75 percent of the cost of cleaning up whatever lurks in the underlying landfill.

Trump is still pushing his original, and strongest, argument -- that New Jersey taxpayers are being looted to subsidize the wealthiest casino company in America. But that’s boring pocketbook rhetoric, and it has failed to hobble the deal. And while Trump has plenty to fear from Wynn on a pure business level, it’s his pride that has been more grievously assaulted. Granted, Trump has alienated numerous politicians and businessmen in Atlantic City, but he did stick it out in the early nineties, when the town was struggling. Without Trump’s presence, Atlantic City would be an economic disaster instead of merely a mess.

Now the city and state are begging Trump’s mortal enemy -- a man who declared that he “wouldn’t go back to Atlantic City if they gave me a hotel for nothing” -- to come to the rescue. And they’re rubbing Trump’s nose in unflattering comparisons: “Donald is a soap opera; Steve Wynn is a Shakespeare play,” gushes Lou Toscano, a top aide to Atlantic City’s mayor.

So now Trump is going for the big scare . If citizens in search of good, clean entertainment set foot in Wynn’s marina casino, Trump suggests, they’ll be risking their very lives! “Everybody knows about the content of what was dumped there,” he says. “It was industrial waste.”

And it isn’t just the casino customers who will be taking their fate into their hands if Wynn comes to town -- every man, woman, and child in Atlantic City will be threatened merely by sipping a glass of municipal tap water! “If you start to fool around with that aquifer,” Trump claims, “the entire water supply in Atlantic City could be severely polluted -- and may be destroyed.”

How could anyone propose such a dastardly scheme? Maybe, Trump suggests, it’s because Steve Wynn is out of his mind.

“You know, I think Steve’s got a lot of psychological problems,” Trump says. “I think he’s quite disturbed. That’s just my feeling. I think he’s a very disturbed person” -- he pauses, groping for sincerity -- “sadly.”

On this late January night, Steve Wynn seems to be in full command of his wits. He’s the guest of honor at a hotel-industry awards ceremony. During the cocktail reception at the Hilton on Sixth Avenue, Wynn is in full schmooze, even as he keeps one arm wrapped around the younger of his two daughters, Gillian, who is subtly steering him through the obstacle course of 1,000 guests. Wynn greets Fran Reiter with a practiced, bone-white grin. Reiter, the former deputy mayor and City Hall insider, now runs the city’s convention and visitors bureau. Wynn asks for an update on Mayor Giuliani’s casino plans for Governors Island. “It’s never going to happen,” Reiter says confidently. “I don’t know what he was thinking about.” Wynn nods happily; that’s one less competitor.

As Wynn glides through the small talk, looking tan and serene, you’d never suspect that hours earlier he’d ignited an enormous furor: Wynn suddenly announced he was dropping his partners in the Atlantic City project, the Circus Circus and Boyd Gaming companies, citing vague contractual loopholes.

Back in Las Vegas, his ex-collaborators were screaming. “Out of nowhere, we got a three-sentence letter on the fax machine,” says a stunned Boyd executive. “This is incredible, incredible arrogance.” Over at Circus Circus, the bosses were mulling lawsuits to enforce their signed agreement to build a hotel and casino on Wynn’s marina land.

In New York, Wynn shrugs. “We’re just expanding our development,” he says calmly. “Instead of 2,000 hotel rooms, I’ll build 4,000. It’s going to be even more incredible! Today I was meeting with my architectural colleagues” -- Wynn pauses, leans forward conspiratorially, and lowers his voice to an I’m-about-to-awe-you tone -- “Philip Johnson and Frank Gehry. We’ve decided we need to build something breakaway if we’re going to change the character of Atlantic City.”

So trashing the deal with his two partners isn’t a ploy to get them to pick up more of the construction costs? Wynn doesn’t want to talk about that, instead turning to his daughter with a gleeful suggestion: “You should come with me to check out Bilbao next month!” They agree to fly to Spain to see Gehry’s new Guggenheim. Then Wynn drifts off to the Grand Ballroom.

Minutes later, Wynn delivers his speech and goes out of his way to take a swipe at Trump -- a reminder that Trump remains the real nemesis.

In his office four blocks away, Trump is ecstatic, working the phone to spread his theory that Wynn is stretched too thin to build on schedule in Atlantic City. “Wynn just fucked Circus Circus and Boyd! It’s total dissension!” Trump says. “The theory being they’ll sue and they’ll delay. He’s looking for a delay. Think of it -- New Jersey is gonna have a tunnel going to one hotel? That was not the deal! This will require a whole new filing, and a whole new everything. It’s back to the drawing boards!”

Even on the bustling, blinking Las Vegas strip, the Mirage stands out: The windows of the three-winged, 30-story hotel have been coated to glimmer gold in the sun. Then there’s that sidewalk volcano, belching flames and spouting steaming plumes of water 60 feet into the sky.
A dazzling 20,000-gallon aquarium, burbling with brilliantly colored fish and plants, is the backdrop for the hotel front desk. As a father props up his 5-year-old son for a better view, a couple of leopard sharks swim past. The tourists have no way of knowing that behind the tank are Wynn’s offices.

Mirage’s mastermind sits behind a stark, minimalist white desk, his back to a corner, like a gunslinger who doesn’t want anyone sneaking up behind him. He’s wearing a plush gray polo sweater, the top button rakishly undone, and understated, perfectly coordinated gray-and-black plaid pants.