To rephrase a purported Chinese proverb: Steve Wynn lives in interesting times.
The casino magnate behind Wynn Resorts makes most of his money in Macau, China, and he's worked closely with the Chinese government for a dozen years. However, gambling revenue across Macau has softened as the government has cracked down on what it calls illegal lending practices there, and as potential new anti-smoking rules threaten to turn off gamblers. Now, new tensions are rising on the heels of massive protests in Hong Kong by residents who oppose Beijing's efforts to dictate the candidates they're allowed to vote for.
Is Steve Wynn bothered?
"I'm more scared about the United States than I am about China," Wynn told CNBC this week at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. The protests in Hong Kong have "become sort of a party out there."
Wynn said he believes the situation will be resolved: "Everyone in China is pragmatic and practical."
Wynn said Chinese officials may be willing to bend in favor of protesters who want everyone to be able to vote on Hong Kong's chief executive, though he seemed to think it's less likely that Beijing will stop deciding who can run and who doesn't.
"I think the central government is willing to let everybody vote for the CEO, but they want to have some positive input on the nominations, so that whoever it is, the group of candidates, have some kind of mature, rational attitude towards the fact that it belongs to China," Wynn said. "I don't think (Chinese President) Xi Jinping and the central government are going to give up some level of control of their own country. It's not part of that culture there."
Wynn continues to praise the business climate in China compared to the United States: "The regulatory burden in China is infinitesimal compared to the crap we get in America."
Wynn's comments come as Western companies have come up against growing scrutiny from the Chinese government, including surprise raids, long investigations and growing fines in the name of "anti-trust" enforcement.
Wynn refused to comment on a slander lawsuit his company has filed against Jim Chanos—the suit alleges that the famous short seller intimated that Wynn has violated anti-bribing laws in order to succeed in Macau. Instead, he praised what he called "the most laissez-faire place on the planet at the moment" in China, and said Americans don't realize how positive and aspirational the Chinese are about their own lives and their own government.
"If you ask any Chinese businessman, or even the working folks, 'Do you trust the central government?' they'll say 'Yes.'"
When pressed about whether such feelings are genuine, and whether any real political opposition can exist in China, Wynn replied, "I'm telling what I see and hear personally. The average person in China doesn't feel separated from the government and is satisfied."
On the other hand, Wynn continues to disparage the White House: "I am stunned at the immaturity of this administration. ... We elected a man as president who had no experience at anything."
Would he ever consider following in the footsteps of other American companies seeking to move their headquarters overseas in order to dodge taxes, a practice called "inversion?"
"I have no plans on inverting, not at all," Wynn said. "We're an American company. Our revenue is Asian, but we're an American company. We're American people, and proud to be so."
Still, he's opposed to the possibility that the federal government may punish companies that do inversions. "The administration wants to punish everybody. That's part of the political mentality at the moment in America. Punish people."