…and does he ever! Steve Wynn is one of the few who can create gold from dust on the famous (infamous?) Las Vegas strip. He blows money into the pockets of tens of thousands working within a five-mile radius in the middle of the desert.
Before becoming a hotel tycoon, Steve Wynn worked in Maryland at his family’s bingo parlors, a successful endeavor by any measure. However, he would find his true calling in Sin City as a one-of-a-kind hotelier, or as Time magazine called him – a great casino salesman. Wynn is credited with transforming the Las Vegas Strip and trailblazing new luxury and entertainment standards for casinos and hotels. After moving to the city in 1967, Wynn worked tirelessly on his megaresort vision and put his inimitable stamp on some of the best known megaresorts in the global hospitality industry. The Wynn name is synonymous with The Strip.
The Golden Nugget
In the 60s, whenever The Strip and downtown casino owners wanted loans, their go-to banker was E. Parry Thomas. Wynn was not different from the rest, and he also received a loan for $400,000 to build a liquor warehouse off The Strip, which he ended selling for $700,000. Having a more ambitious plan in mind, in 1971, with a $1.2 million loan, bought a one acre slice adjacent to Caesars Palace and announced the construction of a rival casino. In reality, Wynn had no intentions to build a casino, but knew that Caesars would be compelled to buy him out, which they did the following year at a princely sum of $2.25 million. A savvy business move? Oh yes…
In his thirties, with almost $700,000 in profit, Wynn gobbled up shares of the public company that owned one of the city’s oldest luxury hotels and casinos: the Golden Nugget. In 1973, as the controlling interest shareholder, Wynn was elected chairman of the company. He infused new life into the casino, carrying out large-scale expansions and innovations. The renovated casino became a hotspot for upscale clientele. It was simply the beginning of Wynn’s transformation of The Strip.
In a few years, Wynn replicated his success, with the Golden Nugget, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Legendary crooner, Frank Sinatra, entertained high rollers at both casinos and profits soared.
The Mirage – A Renaissance Designed for Las Vegas, Orchestrated by Steve Wynn
In the early 80s, Wynn embarked on a project that would capture nation-wide attention and reinforce the city’s status as the premier destination for casinos and diverse entertainment. He received a whopping $1 billion in credit to build The Mirage, a novel concept for a casino hotel at the time, and one of the city’s landmark attractions in existence today long past Wynn’s ownership.
The Mirage couldn’t have come at a better time. Las Vegas was beginning to acquire a sordid reputation due to 15 years of slow development. Also, gambling had been legalized all across the country. On November 19, 1989, Wynn opened The Strip’s first megaresort – The Mirage Hotel – the most opulent, decadent of its kind to grace the gambling capital of the United States. There was a new standard. The bar had been raised.
Siegfried & Roy led the ribbon-cutting celebrations with four baby tiger cubs. The spectacle was open for everyone, not only the expected gamblers, but also families. A 54 foot high volcano outside the hotel spewed fire and smoke 100 feet above the waters below. This, the natsignature attraction – worth $13 million and personally designed by Wynn – continues to enthrall guests. It boasts a tropical setting of a glass-domed atrium with tropical plants, and bottle-neck dolphins swimming in and around an intricately-designed artificial coral reef. At the white tiger habitat, the majestic animals pace up and down, shielded from the public by a thick glass wall.
At the time, Wynn’s vision for The Mirage was nothing short of pioneering. The sheer extravaganza of the white and gold megaresort was spellbinding. When guests stepped into The Mirage, they were getting it all, unlike Las Vegas had ever seen. It became the venue of the Siegfried & Roy show, and the first casino to use security cameras at all the game tables.
At $630 million, the Mirage was a financial gamble. To break even, it had to generate $1 million in revenue each day. The first hour of its opening, fifty thousand people came to play, easing all of the Wall Street bankers’ skepticism. It led Wynn to declare that the Mirage was ‘the biggest success in the history of the world’. The Mirage inspired competitors to build other megaresorts on The Strip, such as the Excalibur, MGM Grand, The Venetian and Luxor.
In 1993, Wynn built another megaresort in a section of The Mirage’s parking lot: Treasure Island. The theme was evident, but the welcome that guests receive at the hotel is really something else! Every fifteen minutes, a simulated pirate ship battle with climbing and falling acrobats, entertains guests in front of the property.
By the late 1990s, Wynn was ready to build another megaresort on The Strip. The news was announced on national television in Wynn’s flamboyant style: imploding a hotel at the location. From the dust and ashes rose the Bellagio, the first Strip hotel to receive the AAA Five Diamond Award, fifteen years in a row. Movies set in Las Vegas frequently feature the Bellagio, such as Ocean’s Eleven and The Hangover.
When the record $1.6 billion Bellagio opened its doors in 1998, observers noted that the megaresort emphasized culture and elegance over extravagant entertainment. The showmanship was replaced by sophisticated interiors inspired by Italian and French designs. The Bellagio – the city’s most profitable casino hotel – features luxurious marble floors, a botanical garden and a lake with musical water fountains synchronized to Broadway show tunes and Pavarotti’s arias. Shopping malls at the Bellagio are dotted with high-end luxury brands such as Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Chanel, Tiffany & Co., and Prada.
Wynn’s masterpiece came in the form of a world-class museum featuring modern, Impressionist and post-Impressionist work, worth approximately $300 million. New megaresorts Mandalay Bay and Paris-Las Vegas followed suit. His move to construct the museum overextended the initial budget of $1.2 billion, but it attracted the kind of publicity that the Bellagio wanted, setting new standards for casino hotels on the Strip.
Wynn Las Vegas
In 2005, Wynn broke ground on his most expensive project till date – the $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas Resort featuring 2,716 rooms, a golf course and a Broadway-sized theater. Three years later, he opened, on the Strip, the $2.3 billion Encore, a 2,034 rooms megaresort modeled after Southern French architecture. It houses five restaurants, including ‘Sinatra’, which showcases his memorabilia and Oscar statuette.
Failing eyesight hasn’t kept 74-year old Steve Wynn from staying in the news. Either for the extraordinary additions and shows at Wynn Las Vegas, or most recently, his changing of opinion on Donald Trump. Wynn’s marketing genius, consummate showmanship and indomitable spirit live on. For as long as the Strip’s megaresorts keep their doors open, Steve Wynn will be remembered as the game-changer who transformed the face, feel, and style of the Las Vegas Strip.