04/27/2005 11:00PM

Wynn Las Vegas worth the wait

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What started as a terrible nightmare, ended up in a dream.

A reporter, who would prefer not to reveal his true identity for reasons that will soon be clear, was on his way to the grand opening of the $2.7 million Wynn Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

He stopped at a Terrible Herbst gas station in northwest Las Vegas at 11 p.m. to grab a snack and a Diet Coke. You see, there were very few media invites for the opening and he was grabbing sustenance for the inevitable wait with the thousands of people expected to be the first to see developer Steve Wynn's latest project.

But when the resort opened at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the reporter wasn't there to witness it.

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Somewhere from between the time he entered Terrible's and returned to his car, he lost his car keys. They were nowhere to be found, even after he retraced his steps over and over and tore apart the car.

He left the car at Terrible's and made the three-mile walk of shame, partly to pay penance for his stupidity and partly to not have to wake his wife and kids in the middle of the night. Upon returning home (after a quick call from his cell to wake his wife to unlock the door), he went straight to bed and decided to tour the property in the morning.

This long-winded intro is to put you in the state of mind of this reporter. After a restless night's sleep - and having to go see the gas station manager to request surveillance tapes, borrowing his wife's minivan, and make plans to get a locksmith for the abandoned car - he was prepared to see Wynn as just another hotel if it didn't live up to the hype.

So, there was every reason for him not to be blown away by the Wynn.

But wowed he was. Wynn Las Vegas is as opulent as it was hyped to be.

Part of the reason Wynn limited media access beforehand was that he did not want people to know what to expect, but to experience it for themselves.

"How can you explain a product that has to be experienced?" Wynn said. "It doesn't lend itself to verbal communication."

Hotels have been around for centuries. So even though many people think everything has been done before, it takes a visionary like Wynn to push the envelope.

"There are no original ideas, but there are original expressions of them," Wynn said. "This is a contemporary interpretation of classical architectural themes."

If this all sounds abstract, that's by design, just as the hotel is. Wynn is an art lover, and it shows. He took a blank canvas and created his masterpiece. As he said in his ad that made its during the Super Bowl: "This is my new hotel. The only one I've ever signed my name to." Just like a painting.

Originally, the name of the resort was going to be La Reve (which translates into "The Dream"), named after a painting by Picasso. And that is probably still the best way to describe the resort. An otherworldly dream.

When Wynn decided to invoke his own namesake on the marquee, he gave the La Reve name to the feature show. It's a production by Franco Dragone, a former Cirque du Soleil director who designed "O" for the Bellagio, among others. The Wynn Theater has a one-million-gallon performance pool as the stage and seats 2,087, with no seat more than 40 feet from the stage/water.

Wynn wants his guests to experience everything from the inside of the hotel, and that is why the outside is nondescript, except for the impressive 54-story bronze hotel tower.

Unlike his previous creations, which had an entertainment feature out front - a volcano at the Mirage, pirate battle at Treasure Island, dancing fountains at the Bellagio - the Wynn's free entertainment is hidden from passersby on the Strip by an 18-story man-made mountain covered in trees. Once inside the hotel and restaurants, which surround a three-acre man-made lake, guests can view a multi-media show on a "screen" that doubles as a 100-foot-high waterfall.

At the Bellagio, visitors have to pass through the registration area to get to the Conservatory, but at Wynn the hotel desk tucked off to the side of the garden.

Of course, Wynn is a casino-hotel with all the games offered elsewhere. There is 110,000 square feet of casino space with 137 table games, 1,960 slots, a poker room, a keno lounge, and a baccarat salon.

As for the race and sports book, it's also a dream. Picture it as a cross between the Mirage and Bellagio, not quite as big as the Mirage but roomier than the Bellagio and with higher ceilings.

"We wanted the book to be intimate but not cramped," said race and sports book director Vinny Magliulo.

The first thing you see are the three 12-foot screens, two of which can be split into four smaller screens to showcase more games. There are 100 seats for horse players, all with their own 12-inch plasma TV's - 24 of which have touch-screen individual player terminals to wager at your seat - and 25 oversized leather chairs on the sports side. All told, Magliulo said there's room for 400 people between the book and the adjoining lounge and deli. In addition to the aforementioned screens, there are 38 more around the book, along with seven digital odds boards for sports odds and 10 for racetrack scratches, jockey changes.

Wynn has the typical amenities of any major Vegas resort - pool, spa, fine dining, buffet, wedding chapels, convention space. The rooms range from 620 square feet for standard (including plasma TV's and wall-to-ceiling windows) up to 7,000-square-foot private villas. It also has the only 18-hole golf course on the Strip, redesigned from the old Desert Inn course and costing $500 per round, and a Ferrari Maserati dealership right out front, next to the valet pick-up.