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Steve Wynn is talking a new game about China

Wynn Macau casino resort in Macau, China.
Jerome Favre | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Wynn Macau casino resort in Macau, China.

Steve Wynn has been a fan of doing business in China for years. He's even said there are things about it that are better than doing business in the United States.

"Macau has been steady. The shocking, unexpected government is the one in Washington," he told CNBC in 2010.

"I'm more scared about the United States than I am about China," he repeated in 2014.

But now it's 2015, and the bloom may be off the plum blossom.

On an earnings conference call this week, as Wynn Resorts saw revenue and profits drop once again because of a corruption crackdown in Macau, Wynn reiterated he remains bullish on China in the long term. However, in the short term, he's furious. "None of us are really clear on what our environment is going to be like going forward," he told analysts, "and it makes planning and adjusting almost a mystical process."

Wynn is preparing to open a $4 billion property in Macau next spring, and he still doesn't know how many gaming tables the government will allow him to have. He's also very critical of the cap on the number of tables. "If you wanted to undermine and scuttle the viability of that industry, you put in table caps," he said. "You could tell I am a tremendous critic of that decision, because I don't understand it in terms of anything in my 45 years of experience that explains it."


Steve Wynn in 2014

But here's what Wynn had to say a year ago.

"If you ask any Chinese businessman or even the working folks, 'Do you trust the central government?' They say 'yes,'" Wynn told us. He praised China as "the most laissez-faire place on the planet at the moment." He added that it was much harder to do business in the United State than China. "The regulatory burden in China is infinitesimal compared to the crap that we get in America."


By May of this year...

Seven months later, Wynn sat down with CNBC's Eunice Yoon and appeared more cautious in his praise as the central government's crackdown on corruption was starting to have a serious effect on Macau revenue.

"My attitude at the moment is that China is in a state of change wrought by its leadership that determined that change was necessary," Wynn said. He said he understood why President Xi Jinping was cracking down on corruption, responding to general distrust of government among the populace. "I get the feeling that this administration is very well-informed. It may be uncomfortable in the short term for folks like myself, or my company, but I don't see it as necessarily a big negative."

He pointed out that most of the profit from Wynn operations in Macau goes to the government: "What I hope and urge at all times when we're in business is that the government recognizes its real partnership with us."


And now...

Steve Wynn pulled no punches on this week's earnings call about his growing frustration with the lack of guidance from the central government. In a twist, he described Vegas as more laissez-faire than Macau.

"Here in America, we would never have a Las Vegas of the diversity we've had, if the city had told us how many tables we could spread. The table cap is the single most counterintuitive and irrational decision that was ever made," he said of the limit on gaming tables mandated in Macau. "Understand that the reason that these extraordinary nongaming attractions exist is because the damn casino is the cash register."


Asked about Wynn's comments on the call about China and whether they constitute a change, Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver wrote, "I think they stand for themselves and should not be regarded as a comparative."

Wynn says that he fears the lack of outlook will hurt employees in Macau. "It isn't good for Macau. It's not good for the citizens of Macau. It's not good for the tens of thousands of employees of Macau who are looking forward to promotions and raises and all kinds of benefits that accrue because of the viability of these resorts."

Those remarks happened the same week Steve Wynn hosted the Democratic presidential debate at his casino resort in Las Vegas. Bernie Sanders and Steve Wynn might seem like strange bedfellows. CNBC reached out to the company for further comment on what appears to be a flip-flop in sentiment on China, and perhaps a 180 on his feelings about the Democratic Party, even though Wynn has been a Democrat in the past and told a local reporter this week he might consider voting for Hillary Clinton.

Wynn spokesman Weaver replied in a statement: "Hosting the Dem Debate has zero to do with our earnings call today or Mr. Wynn's comments about the U.S. regulatory environment. I repeat zero."

Weaver said Wynn hosted the debate to generate awareness of the resort, and it allowed employees to get involved in the political process.