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Steve Wynn - King of the Las Vegas Strip

Steve Wynn (January 27, 2023) was born Stephen Alan Weinberg in New Haven, Connecticut. He was raised in Utica, New York and received a BA in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. His upbringing was typical upper middle class but his father, who ran several gaming and bingo parlors, was a heavy gambler.

New York laws changed, so Wynn Sr. took his bingo games wherever he could make a dime. He made lots of dimes, but he also gambled like a fool. He passed away before his son’s first year at Yale Law School, leaving a $300,000 debt behind. Steve took over the bingo parlors and whittled down the family debts.

He married Elaine Farrell Pascal in 1963 and started a family. And, just as Bill Harrah did after acquiring a bingo parlor from his father, Wynn expanded his business and then moved to Nevada.

When the family got to Las Vegas, Wynn put some cash into the New Frontier Hotel and Casino. Investing in the old property was practically a rite of passage in Las Vegas, and it helped him get accepted.

Steve Wynn in Las Vegas

Wynn also met E. Parry Thomas, a legendary local banker, who offered loans for casinos and real estate deals when other banks still considered gaming venture loans to be too big a risk. Taking advantage of his new friend, Wynn got a loan to purchase a strip of land next to Caesars Palace from Howard Hughes. It was a very cagy move.

Less than a year later, Caesars Palace owner Jay Sarno bought the land under his hotel from Kirk Kerkorian and wanted Wynn’s piece of land for future expansion. Wynn made bank on the deal and put his profits into buying a big piece of the downtown Golden Nugget..

Wynn also purchased a local wine and liquor distributing company which he ran profitably for four years. After working with Jackie Gaughan at the Golden Nugget, Wynn sold his little company and put every dollar he had into purchasing more of the Golden Nugget until he was the majority owner. Then, he went wild.

In the early ‘70s, downtown Las Vegas was the redheaded stepchild of those fancy schmancy clubs on the Strip. The smaller casinos made money, but there wasn’t any room to expand and little need to. Wynn changed all that.

Welcome to Las Vegas Sign
He took the ho-hum Nugget and refurbished it; adding two new restaurants including an upscale steak house, and brightened the entire casino with white slot machine banks. The latter change may have had something to do with Wynn’s failing eyesight. Wynn has retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that robbed him of peripheral vision.

Whatever the reasons for the changes, they were successful. The casino attracted a better crowd with more money to burn. They played new Bally slot machines and walked on beautifully carpeted floors. And, they lost money in the fancy new baccarat room surrounded by beautiful women in long white gowns. The new environment piqued fresh interest.

Wynn doubled down on his good fortune and constructed
a beautiful hotel tower to match those on the strip.

It opened in 1977 with Frank Sinatra touting the casino as the best in Las Vegas. The marketing campaign was very strong and extremely successful.

The property did great business for the next few years, but then something unforeseen happened. New Jersey began allowing casinos in Atlantic City. Up until that point, there were no casinos in any other state. Nevada had been the golden goose, but now they had competition.

Wynn figured if you can’t beat them; join them, so he built a new Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. By 1983, it was the most successful casino in the city. Now, Wynn had other plans. Unlike most casino owners who purchase other casinos to expand their reach, Wynn wanted to create something unparalleled.

To do that, he needed a ton of cash, so he sold the Atlantic City property for $440 million. Still, that wasn’t nearly enough; the man had strip envy. Steve wanted the largest casino in town. He bought the land the Castaways once sat on and began planning.

When construction began, the budgeted price was $560 million.

Enter Mr. Junk Bond, Michael Milken.

A New Las Vegas Strip

To get enough cash, Wynn got the high risk bond king Milken to handle a half-billion dollar offering on Wall Street. When the expensive ($630 million) property, named the Mirage, opened on November 22, 1989, financial experts across the globe said the name fit.. They thought all that cash was going to disappear in the desert.

The Mirage became the largest hotel in the world. There were 3,044 beautiful rooms.  The resort property boasted an erupting volcano and a South Seas theme. And, it needed thousands of employees, 6,000 total.

How could it be successful with such a heavy nut to crack each month to pay down those bonds?

To start with, Wynn’s new resort was spectacular. Everything was newage, beautiful and well- thought -out. The top five floors of the hotel held suites; the kind that looked like palatial mansions with strip views. In addition to the great restaurants, the Mirage offered the Siegfried & Roy Show, with exotic animals never before seen by most visitors.

Big players noticed the difference, especially on the gaming floor. Wynn set the bar higher by paying a better rate to his dealers, floor supervisors, pit bosses and slot personnel.

His strategy worked! Wynn kept the profits high by surpassing the surveillance techniques of all other Nevada casinos. He included individual cameras for every gaming table, so there was always tape of every play.

And he made employees happy with better benefits such as the highest quality food possible in their dining facilities. But, that didn’t mean Wynn was done.

More is Better

The Mirage paid down its bonds in half the scheduled time, so Wynn embarked on building a new casino. Treasure Island would have a slightly more family-friendly theme.

Opened in 1993, at just over $450 million, the new resort offered people walking the Las Vegas Strip a full-size Battle of Buccaneer Bay. Visitors enjoyed watching two pirate ships firing cannons and pirates flying into the water.

Inside the resort, the ambience was a romantic tropical setting. Treasure Island also offered the Cirque du Soleil show, voted the best production show in Las Vegas nine times.

The casino offered thousands of slot machines and more than 100 table games, which filled up fast.

Somehow, that wasn’t enough for the new hero of the Las Vegas Strip. Wynn wanted more! His new Bellagio opened October 15, 1998, as the most impressive resort in Nevada. It still is. Along the strip, the Bellagio sports an 8-acre lake with the huge Fountains of Bellagio, a music-synchronized water fountain show.

The Bellagio is upscale and ornate inside, setting it apart from the other Vegas casino resorts. There are colorful flower displays, a variety of shops, 14 restaurants and an art museum. Not some tiny, forgettable place. A museum with the most impressive art work in Nevada.

How can you beat that? The Bellagio also boasted the best poker room in town, thousands of slots, hundreds of table games and Keno. And finally, the special high roller rooms where the biggest gamblers in the world converge to bet as much as $1 million per hand of baccarat.

The Sale of Mirage Resorts

Steve Wynn built the nicest and most successful resorts in the state of Nevada. But still, it wasn’t enough. So, he sold them all to MGM Grand, Inc. (now MGM Resorts) in 2000. The total purchase price was $6.6 billion. With extra time on his hands, Wynn started a new company, Wynn Resorts Limited. He publicly financed a new round of resorts, starting with the Wynn Las Vegas in 2005.

The Wynn property had a sleeker design than his earlier Las Vegas resorts. It stood on the site of the old Desert Inn, built at the cost of $2.7 billion, and featured the only golf course on the strip.

Wynn also opened casinos in Macau, the biggest gaming market in the world. This made Wynn one of the richest men in the world.

The Encore debuted in 2008, next to the Wynn Las Vegas. The resorts featured 4,750 rooms and the casinos experienced great success. The two properties combined employed 9,000 workers who raved about their working conditions.

In February 2013, the Las Vegas Review Journal named Wynn Resorts as the Best Place To Work among large companies in southern Nevada.

No More Mirage Resorts
Steve Wynn had the cash to purchase fine works by artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse. Many of his best pieces were displayed in the Wynn and Encore. However, , a Picasso portrait he purchased from an anonymous collector in 2001.

In 2006, he was ready to sell the artwork to Steven A. Cohen for $139 million. However, he did like to show off the painting. This included one fateful evening when several guests were visiting; including Nora Ephron, her husband Nick Pileggi and Barbara Walters.

When Wynn turned to say something to his guests, he pushed his elbow through the canvas. The planned sale was canceled and the painting required a $90,000 repair. Le Reve was later estimated to be worth just $85 million, a $54 million difference.. Probably not a big deal for a man worth $2.5 billion, but still memorable.

Today, Steve Wynn resides in a penthouse suite at the Wynn Las Vegas.

His contributions to the whole economy of Nevada are enormous,
changing the face of the Las Vegas Strip by turning it into a land of mega resorts.

Fifty million visitors a year prove this to be true. Halfway House