Last week, I detailed a disturbing list of factual mistakes in Winner Takes All, the book by Christina Binkley of the Wall Street Journal about the past decade or so of wheeling and dealing that created the Las Vegas Strip as we know it.
Binkley’s book deserves special scrutiny because of who she is—the longtime gaming-beat writer for one of the world’s most important newspapers—as well as what she wrote. In the book, she portrays Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn as both visionary and petty, MGM Mirage CEO Terry Lanni as somewhat detached and Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson as irrelevant and invisible.
Binkley has said in interviews that Wynn is sore about her depiction of the buyout of Mirage Resorts as an unfriendly merger. (To my reading, Binkley actually just lays out the facts as she’s gathered them in that case and lets readers decide.) But Wynn himself told me the piece that sticks in his craw most is a passage in which she reports that Wynn became angry over the $25 million price of something, prompting his German shepherd to “menace” the seller, Dino Fusco, with a threatened bite to the crotch. Wynn got the price down to $15 million.
“Dino and I talked twice this week, and he’s furious about this,” Wynn said. Fusco, Wynn said, insisted he said neither that there had been a rant nor that the dog had threatened him. “In the space of two minutes, you have a story that is twisted so much. And that may live somewhere forever. And it makes you wonder when you read history how much of history is bullshit.”
Binkley told me she has Fusco on a recorded interview and that he hasn’t retracted the tale to her in subsequent conversations. “But I can imagine he didn’t want to tell Steve Wynn that,” she wrote me in an e-mail. “No one, particularly an investment banker, wants to be on the receiving end of Steve Wynn’s fury.”
Indeed, Wynn is livid over the book, which describes his using Mirage Resorts funds recklessly and nickel-and-diming MGM Mirage over their purchase of his Shadow Creek home as well as intimating he’s a liposuctioned Lothario.
Binkley, he said, “wanted to write a book that would be sensational. … It isn’t the work of a technically accurate journalist. It’s the work of someone who is writing what is passed off as a factual, historical account, but it’s gussied up, and it’s gussied up shamelessly.”
If Binkley gussied up Wynn, she gussied down Lanni. In particular, she refers twice to the fact that Lanni was attending Ronald Reagan’s funeral at a key moment when the MGM-Mandalay merger became endangered.
Lanni disputed that: “There were a couple of issues that came up because I had to step away from the funeral to handle some things with corporate counsel in Washington, D.C., on the Federal Trade Commission. So she really missed out on that. I was [at the funeral in Simi Valley, California] for about two hours. It was only for a brief period of time. … There was nothing in the four and five hours flying down there and then coming back that was lost.”
That’s a significant contradiction. The drama Binkley infuses in those merger talks depends upon Lanni being unavailable at that precise moment. And it is part of why I left the book with the impression that she regarded Lanni as merely a figurehead despite having written in June 2004 in the WSJ that the MGM-Mandalay merger would “make Terry Lanni ... the unlikely king of Vegas casinos.” Binkley responded that she didn’t intend to imply any breach of duty on Lanni’s part.
The most important flaw of this book, though, is her decision to ignore Adelson. Vegas has made him, after all, wealthier than Kirk Kerkorian and helped make LVS worth almost as much as MGM Mirage and Wynn combined.
Binkley told several interviewers that Adelson is responsible for only one innovation—the integration of the casino-resort with a large-scale private convention center—and that he’s a nonfactor in Vegas’ future because his land’s built out.
Still, she gives more biographical detail of a gaming analyst’s wife than on Adelson. In the preview galley of the book, she referred to him as “eccentric and paranoid,” but dropped “paranoid” for the final version. Binkley told me she did so “because when I read it in the galley, it didn’t seem fair or accurate. The book didn’t substantiate it.” Yet she also didn’t try to substantiate the eccentric claim, either.
Adelson was irate over the label when I read it to him in January. He said his trouble with Binkley started in 1997 when she reported that several Vegas people believed the soon-to-open Venetian would fail.
“If she was going to characterize me as anything, the one thing I would never say, wouldn’t even think of it, is eccentric,” he said. “I’m a risk-taker. That doesn’t make me eccentric and paranoid. I’m not paranoid. I’m not afraid of anybody.”
Ah, but could it be that everybody is afraid of Adelson? He is, after all, known for being litigious. Just ask the Review-Journal’s John L. Smith, who is defending himself against a lawsuit even after correcting an error about Adelson and apologizing for it.
Binkley insists that’s not it.
“Winner was never conceived as a collegiate ‘Greatest Men of Las Vegas’ text in which everyone who has been important or colorful would get their due share of print,” she said. “When I was making these decisions four years ago, I wasn’t aware of any lawsuit between Sheldon Adelson and John Smith; I’m not even sure if Mr. Smith’s book had been published at that point. I was certainly aware that Steve Wynn had sued for libel over a book. I do recall that Mr. Adelson was angry at me, and pretty much everyone else who wrote about the troubles with the Venetian opening. That was a very long time ago, though. [LVS President] Bill Weidner still sends me a Christmas card every year, so I assume they’ve taken down the figurative dartboard with my picture on it.”
And with that, so have I.
Read Steve Friess’ daily blog at TheStripPodcast.blogspot.com and catch his weekly celeb-interview podcast at TheStripPodcast.com He can be reached at [email protected]