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LAS VEGAS-US gamblers held onto their wallets with clenched fists in the third quarter but Wynn Resorts but a strong showing in Macau, a strong balance sheet and expectations of a more relaxed US gambler in the coming months has Wynn Resorts and its investors confident in the long-term future of the company, both abroad and in Vegas.

The company’s share price rose 13% on Thursday after it reported a 14% rise in third quarter income thanks to a 37% spike in revenue from its properties in Macau, which offset slight declines in Las Vegas. On Friday, following a conference call late Thursday with analysts, shares jumped another 29.9% (+$13.90) to close at $60.40 while its competitors’ share prices languished in the mid-teens to the mid-single digits.

The company’s first order of business in the conference call was to allay concerns about its balance sheet. Matt Maddox, the company’s CFO, said the company is in an “enviable position” not just in gaming but any industry that is capital incentive with $1.7 billion of cash on hand and an additional $500 million available on a revolving credit facility, providing total liquidity of $2.2 billion.

With approximately $500 million left to spend on Encore at Wynn Las Vegas, which will open in the next couple of months, and approximately the same amount left to spend at Encore Wynn Macau, “we can pay off all our debt maturities over the next three years with the cash we have in the bank right now and still have hundreds of millions of dollars of excess cash flow.”

In addition, he said the company’s has $3.7 million of debt (after deducting its $1.2 billion or liquidity from the total) versus trailing 12-month EBITDA of $800 million results in a debt-to-EBITDA ratio of 4.5x. “That is a position of strength and we believe that this is going to allow us significant flexibility to navigate our way through the next three years,” he said.

In Vegas, net casino revenues in the third quarter of 2008 were $143.2 million, compared to $149.9 million for the third quarter of 2007. Gross non-casino revenues for the quarter were $190.9 million, a 1.1% decrease from the third quarter of 2007. Hotel revenues were down 3.9% to $65.3 million during the quarter. The company’s ADR at Wynn Las Vegas was $272 for the quarter, compared to $282 in the third quarter of 2007. The property’s occupancy was 96.1%, compared to 96.6% during the prior year period, generating RevPAR of $261 in the third quarter, a 4% decrease from the same 2007 period. Food and beverage revenues increased 2.5% to $74.6 million in the quarter, and retail revenues declined 3.8% to $23 million in the quarter.

Andrew Pascal, the company’s president told investors that business volumes in Vegas fared better than most here” but that things have slowed early in the fourth quarter. “In October we have clearly seen more significant softening,” he said. “Our weekend business has held up fairly well. Walk in business is off. Occupancy mid-week has softened and that has translated into reduced covers in our restaurants, lower volume of activity on the casino floor. I think where we were trending anywhere from 3.5% to 6% in terms of top line business being off through September we are seeing more significant declines now in October.”

Steve Wynn, the company’s candid chairman and chief executive, described Las Vegas as “a little murky,” which he said is to be expected. “It would strike me that if you were a citizen, rational, education person, certainly somebody who had the accomplishment and success in life to be a customer of ours, if you were watching TV or reading the newspapers you would have to be half nuts to spend money instead of waiting around and checking things out to see how the world is going to shake out,” he said. “This is like after 9/11. Cable communication and all the rest exaggerate. Everything is hyperbolic. Everything is exaggerated. Everything is a big story of the moment and in this particular case we have reality that is tough enough and then when you amplify it with all of the news sources and all the talking heads and all the people who think they have a right or weigh in on the subject, not to mention the rhetoric of the campaign, all of this…if the public isn’t jolted then the public is totally immune to being jolted.

“So I don’t take the results of the last few weeks to be indicative of the future. Not to minimize the liquidity problems that face very important sectors of our economy, in terms of the consumer spending I think what we are seeing now is almost a freeze and like a muscle that is flexed you can’t hold it for very long. People will relax and return to their habits sooner, I think, than later. That is not to say I think revenue is going to sky rocket or go through the roof or return to other levels, but I think right now Las Vegas is seeing pretty much some of the worst of it.”

Wynn added that the company is content not to start any new projects–such as redeveloping its golf course in Las Vegas or its land on the “Cotai Strip”–and focus on the two it currently has underway. When asked if the devalued state of his competitors would make acquisitions more interesting to him, the chairman didn’t mince words.

“No, we don’t want to buy anything; There is nothing we see that we want to own,” he said. “We do better building our own stuff. We will have plenty to keep us busy. We have a hotel opening in a few weeks (Encore at Wynn Las Vegas) and another one opening up 12 months from now in Macau. That is all we are going to do for now. I don’t have any plans to rush into anything else.”

Speaking of Encore at Wynn Las Vegas, Steve Wynn said that while 95% occupancy has been pretty typical over the last 40 years in Las Vegas he isn’t expecting occupancy at Encore to top 90% and, if mid-week remains soft, may end up in the low 80s for 2009. To counter that, Wynn says it will not be letting people go but rather likely simply won’t make as many new hires and won’t backfill jobs that go vacant due to attrition.

With regard to where Encore’s customers are going to come from, Steve Wynn was his confident self. “I don’t want to add to any of my neighbor’s woes so if I were to answer that question candidly I would say that our market share will increase in Las Vegas. Does that answer your question?”

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