Will Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts survive the end of the Adelson-Wynn era?By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming ReportsMarch 13, 2019 at 2:15 pmThe future of sports teams after creative geniuses and super stars leave is a frequent topic of discussion. The same kind of discussion also takes place in business; is there life after Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, Ray Kroc or Colonel Sanders? Recently two major events occurred in casino gaming that have created the “life after” discussions about Wynn Resorts and the Las Vegas Sands. In February 2018, Steve Wynn resigned from Wynn Resorts and sold his stock. In March 2019, Sheldon Adelson was reported to have non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Adelson is currently undergoing treatment and not able to publicly perform his CEO duties.Steve Wynn’s departure was forced out by revelations in the Wall Street Journal that he had been accused of multiple acts of sexual assault. The sudden resignation shocked the industry. Adelson’s absence is not shocking given his age and may be temporary. But for the moment, the industry is without two of its most influential and visionary leaders.Both Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands are very much the result of the founder’s vision and personality. Their absence begs the question: what will become of the companies they founded? It is a question we have been asking for a long time. Could Harrah’s survive Bill Harrah’s death? The question was asked about Circus Circus after Bill Bennett, Caesars after Jay Sarno, the Horseshoe after Benny Binion, the Wagon Wheel after Harvey Gross, the Nevada Club after Lincoln Fitzgerald and of course Harold’s Club after Pappy Smith. Over the last forty years the question has been asked many times. The answer is different in each case.The answers dependent on the founder’s skills and organization he put in place. The skills and responsibilities of the chief executive can vary a great deal from casino to casino. And clearly some CEOs have something unique, some set of skills that others lack. Harrah’s in the days of Bill Harrah was one of those companies with something special. Bill Harrah had a vision and he created the necessary structure to support it. Harrah focused his company on quality, customer satisfaction and employee training. Under his leadership Harrah’s developed elaborate systems to standardize each element of the operation. Bill Harrah would not tolerate even a burned-out light bulb, an employee dealing incorrectly or being rude to a customer. Reports to Harrah were meant to keep him informed of any deviation from the expected standard.Contrast that with Circus Circus under William Bennett. Bennett’s Circus concentrated on filling hotel rooms with people willing to play slot machines. Reports to Bennett had nothing to do with customer satisfaction surveys or light bulbs. Bennett wanted to know how many rooms were occupied; anything less than 100 percent occupancy, his measure of perfection, was unacceptable. Both men of course wanted to know about revenue, but each had other priorities that defined their business philosophy.Like Bennett and Harrah, Wynn and Adelson are very different in their style and focus. Wynn focused on experience. Steve Wynn was famous for his vision of the property as an event. A Wynn property was a work of art and Wynn created a narrative around each new property. Steve told the world what to expect and what the Wynn experience would be. Each new property was touted as containing the latest concepts and technology and something unique that no other casino possessed. It wasn’t just a work of art and wonderful; it was the best casino in the market. Wynn prided himself in creating the most profitable casinos wherever he operated.Sheldon Adelson was a businessman first, a casino operator second. It is said he started over 50 different businesses in his life. Wikipedia calls him a “serial entrepreneur.” Adelson bought the Sands in Las Vegas as an extension of his previous businesses, conventions and charter tours. An Adelson resort is a vertically integrated business and relies heavily on its internal convention facilities. Wynn built casinos that outperformed the competitors within a market, Adelson built a company that outperformed competitors worldwide.Currently, both the Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts are in contention for an integrated resort license in Japan. If Wynn and Adelson were running the show, predicting the nature of their bid would not be difficult, but without them it is not easy. A year after Steve’s exit, Wynn Resorts released a statement recently promising to build the biggest, most expensive resort in the world. That is not a Steven Wynn statement. Steve would have painted a picture of the world’s most wonderful resort. His promise would have been filled with magic and beauty; he would have said people from all over the world would come to see it. It would be a compelling and irresistible place. The Las Vegas Sands has not made any recent statements on Japan, but earlier Adelson said he was willing to invest $10 billion in a resort in Japan. With or without Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands will promise a resort like its resorts in Singapore, Macau or Las Vegas; an all-inclusive resort with hotels, convention facilities and transportation infrastructure. Japanese officials have already been to Singapore to study successful casino resorts.The original question was: can Wynn Resorts (WYNN) or the Las Vegas Sands (LVS) survive the founder’s departure? The answer is clearly yes. Wynn Resorts is functioning very well, reporting good financial results. It is preparing to open a new casino in Massachusetts and preparing to bid on a license in Japan. Adelson has only been out of action since December and his absence was not even noted until he failed to appear in court to testify in a lawsuit. The fact that his absence could go unnoticed for several months proves the company is not dependent on Sheldon Adelson coming to work every day. Likewise, Wynn Resorts will continue and grow without Steve Wynn. The king is dead, long live the king. Both organizations are bigger than their founders.