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July 22, 2018

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Wynn and Encore:

Q+A: Jesse Waits — Las Vegas nightlife ‘getting stronger every year in every way’

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Danny Mahoney / XS

Managing Partner Jesse Waits and DJ Kaskade celebrate the fifth anniversary of XS on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Encore.

2014MDW: Avicii at XS

DJ Avicii performs for a record-size crowd at XS on Sunday, May 25, 2014, in Encore. Launch slideshow »

2014MDW: Celebs at XS

Festus Ezeli, Jesse Waits and Tito Ortiz at XS on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Encore. Launch slideshow »

It’s an unbeatable six-year success story, and now Steve Wynn’s XS nightclub in the Encore is not only king of the Strip, but also the No. 1 nightclub in the country. For Jesse Waits, managing partner and co-owner who presides over the $100 million mega-club, it’s a majestic milestone, but he’s got his eye on even more success as he heads toward a decade of glory.

The official celebration is this Saturday, and it also will mark the debut of DJ Avicii’s exclusive 2015 residency, the only one in the world for the Grammy-nominated producer. The first thing Jesse bought when he arrived in Las Vegas in 1996 was a 1965 Ford Thunderbird, which he gave to Avicii for the Swedish star’s 21st birthday and joining the XS/Tryst team at Encore/Wynn.

It’s been an incredible journey from being in Hawaii to working at Mount Charleston as a snowboard instructor and then as a bar back at House of Blues in Mandalay Bay. Jesse opened XS in 2009, and since then as the nightlife leader, XS has made nightclub history being ranked the top-grossing nightclub in the country based on annual revenue of $100 million for the fifth time by Nightclub & Bar’s Top 100 list.

This year Jesse spent $10 million on a technology renovation at XS and signing an enviable roster of exclusive resident DJs. “Star DJs have become the new pop superstars, and, unlike singers and rappers, they can perform all night.”

Nightclub czar Jack Colton said: “They’re still innovating.” Next Monday marks the launch of the monthly High Society cultural mashup bringing together local street and pop artists with Wynn/Encore resident DJs such as Lil Jon, Dillon Francis and R.L. Grime. Jermaine Dupri headlines the first outing with artists transforming the inside of the club into a pop-up original art gallery.

Is it the more than 14,000 LED lights that shine down on the XS party? Is it the rotating screens at the DJ booth? Is it the mood-setting lights in the pool area? What is the secret of the Strip’s longest-running super-club?

Congratulations on six years of extraordinary success. The big question is what have you got in the water over there?

Alcohol (laughs) — lots of alcohol.

Seriously, what’s the secret of success of XS over the years?

The biggest part is being at the Wynn. That’s huge because location is everything. Our design was well done and ahead of everybody else with us putting the pool and nightclub together. We were one of the first, biggest mega-clubs out, and then being able to stay ahead of the times with DJs and parties and amenities, we were always ahead of the curve.

Booking DJs and having support from the resort, having Steve Wynn with us. My team is great. They’re strong, they’re all ambitious, and they work really hard. It’s about our integrity, our honesty and hard work — that let’s you rise to the top.

It’s not about power or money. It’s about ambition and making yourself better. My mindset has always been about goals and dreams and wanting to get to the top. I always wanted to own a nightclub, so I worked my way up to that.

Jesse, is it difficult to remain No. 1 when everybody else is chasing you? They’re trying to knock you off the throne and yet you stay there. How tough is that?

At the beginning, I was always stressed out about it, being in that position, but after the years, it’s become a little easier anticipating the market and making sure we’re always ahead of it. It’s all about being genuine and genuinely wanting to make people happy.

Las Vegas is the most competitive nightlife market out there. I think because I'm so involved in the business, like the day-to-day and being at the door and being in touch with all of the customers and guests and traveling, I feel we have an advantage over most people.

It’s tough, but it’s a good feeling. Every year when it happens, it’s the best feeling ever because it’s tough to propel the brand forward.

XS Fifth Anniversary With Kaskade

The fifth-anniversary celebration of XS with DJ Kaskade on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Encore. Launch slideshow »

Surprise Set by Deadmau5 at XS

Deadmau5 at XS on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, in Encore. Launch slideshow »

David Guetta Celebrates 4th Anniversary of XS

David Guetta celebrates the fourth anniversary of XS in Steve Wynn's Encore on Friday, April 5, 2013. Launch slideshow »

What’s your overall impression of the nightclub scene in Las Vegas at this moment having thrived at the top for six years?

It’s the strongest market in America, if not the world, as far as nightclubs go in the entertainment business. Having all the casinos and all the rooms we’ve had around it makes for the perfect mixture to create what we have. Being so close to L.A. also helps.

The market always evolves, and it’s going to change in the next two years. I always keep an eye out for it. The DJ market right now is still strong. The DJs and their pop culture are so cool; it’s now mainstream.

Las Vegas is like a mainstream market: the mixing pot of all America. Everyone comes to Las Vegas, and they want to hear the superstar DJs and what they have on the radio.

Don’t make this a slam against your rivals, but is the DJ market out-pricing itself?

It has for most venues. Because of the competitive business, we have to bid high for the artists to stay relevant and to be competitive. Ninety percent of the nightclubs, the ones that can afford it, have built a structure for it and have relationships that are attainable. We’re still making great money on it; otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it.

Having survived six years, what do you think the next six look like?

I’ve been here for 18 years and I’ve been in the nightclub business for all 18, and it has evolved so much. I can’t say exactly what the next six years hold, but the nightclub market is getting stronger every year in every way. It’s getting even bigger, and people are bringing more money into nightclubs.

I’ve heard things about the Genting casino across the Strip doing massive nightclubs with rooftops and new spaces for nightlife resorts. I heard Resorts World also opposite us is doing several nightclubs, as well. It’s just getting bigger, and the nightclubs have become the anchors of the resorts bringing the business.

However, do we reach a point when we have too many nightclubs and not enough people?

I don’t think that’s going to happen. The mega-club market right now is killing off the bar/lounge-type nightclubs. I think most clubs have a cycle, like a lifeline around two to three years, then afterward they fall off and live off the reputation or the hotel guests and stay alive.

It’s more like a bar business than like a nightclub. Those eventually go away. For us, we’ve been the strongest for six years, so obviously a phenomenon and for the next six years looking forward, it is going to be even bigger.

Jesse, did you or anybody else six years ago even dare to guess how big this business has become? Do you look back at where you are now, and say, “I never guessed this is what it would lead to?”

No, I never did. I never guessed in my wildest dreams that it would be this big. It just evolved and got bigger through the years. I don’t think anybody knew it would be this big.

Some people may have seen the numbers a few years ago when they exploded, and that’s why they’re investing so much money in the nightclubs. People are seeing it and believing in it and buy into it. I didn’t realize that it was happening that fast until it happened.

If we have even more nightclubs coming, I have to ask again, can we ever have too many of them?

It’s still a business like everything else. It’s just like getting more guests and then sharing it. The weak will die, and the strongest ones will stay up top. I think in the future, to go back a couple of questions, in six years I think that the future of the nightclubs will eventually evolve into the customer experience again with a five- to six-star experience for the guest.

I think a lot of nightclubs may have lost that experience or the integrity of a nightclub feel where a nightclub is not a concert venue but a place where people go to meet each other and socialize and buy each other drinks and walk around and have a flow of people exploring the rooms and each other. That’s what nightclubs are built for, and I feel that’s what it will evolve back to eventually.

So nightclubs become more social again? Are you pleased with the state of the nightclub business, or are you worried or comfortable with its current state?

I’m safe in my spot. I’m very comfortable. We have our talent books filled for the next couple of years. We wised up a little bit and booked the talent out several years so we don't have to keep bidding on DJs and go crazy on prices.

Now we’re just tweaking and fixing things that weren’t totally perfect. Try to make things better for each person. We changed everything at XS from the lions to the new technology, we’ve added tables, we’re constantly evolving and changing our nightclub to make it better for everybody.

The one thing that’s changed of importance is the social media technology — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tinder. A lot of people moved into those for their social scene and didn’t feel they needed a nightclub because they can connect over the Internet.

It will evolve into that again; people want to interact in a physical, communal space. A nightclub is a perfect place for that interaction, and that’s why we got so big using it to our advantage.

How did you feel about being ranked No. 1 yet again?

I feel great and lucky. We’ve worked very hard for it by keeping good relationships and being strategic. I’m proud of myself, I’m proud of my team, I’m proud to be at the Wynn and to be a part of Las Vegas. I’m proud of our guests. It’s a great accomplishment.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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