Steve Wynn has just tossed a verbal grenade into the class wars.
In a presentation to investors Wednesday night, Wynn — founder of Wynn Resorts — said his company is like a luxury brand that focuses on people with money. He explained that an environment that attracts and caters to the wealthy will attract everyone else.
"Rich people only like being around rich people," he said. "Nobody likes being around poor people, especially poor people."
This line is sure to go viral as the latest tone-deaf gaffe by a billionaire, akin to the 2014 remarks made by technology venture capitalist Tom Perkins saying that rich people were being persecuted and should get more votes.
In fairness to Wynn, however, the incendiary line does not represent the full context of his remarks.
He began by saying how Wynn Resorts is more of a luxury brand like Louis Vuitton than a casino or hotel chain.
"This company caters to the top end of the gaming world," he said. "We're sort of Chanel or Louis Vuitton, to use the comparison, the metaphor of the retail business. But unlike Chanel and Louis Vuitton, we are able in our business to cater to all of the market. By making our standards so high...that everybody wants to be in the building."
"Or to put it in a more colloquial way, rich people only like being around rich people. Nobody likes being around poor people, especially poor people. So we try and make the place feel upscale for everyone. That is to say we cater to people who have discretion and judgment and we give them a choice and we are consistent in that."
So Wynn is making the point that he wants to create an "environment" of wealth that draws all kinds of crowds. That's a reasonable business plan. It's just that the "poor people" language coming from the mouth of a Picasso- and Ferrari-collecting billionaire may have been a, well, poor choice of words.
Perhaps Wynn would have been better off using the language that F. Scott Fitzgerald used in "The Great Gatsby" for the same idea. The rich, Fitzgerald wrote, enjoy "the consoling proximity of millionaires. "