"[Las Vegas was s]omething that used to be beautiful, used to have class, like a gorgeous high-priced hooker with an exclusive clientele. Then along came that Steve Wynn cocksucker and knocks her up and put her in the fucking family way."
If Bugsy Siegel made the desert bloom in Las Vegas, Steve Wynn, who has been compared to Donald Trump*, could be said to be the Silver City's gardener.
Stephen A. Wynn was born on January 27, 1942 in New Haven, Connecticut, and grew up in Utica in upstate New York. His father, Michael, who had changed the family name from Weinberg, owned bingo parlors. Young Steve took these over after his father's death in 1963, the same year he graduated the University of Pennsylvania and married Florida beauty queen Elaine Pascal. With the proceeds from this, bought a small stake in the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas in 1967, moving to that city with his wife.
Little did he know that there was shady business afoot at the Frontier. This came to light in 1968, at which point Wynn sold his shares in that property to Howard Hughes, from whom he bought a strip of land on the Las Vegas Strip near Caesar's Palace. With the profit from that investment -- he threatend to open the world's narrowest casino on the 25-foot wide property, forcing Caesar's to buy it for nearly twice what he paid -- he bought five percent of the Golden Nugget. Within five years, he was the majority shareholder, the youngest casino owner in Vegas at age 31.
What Wynn did at the Nugget transformed the image of Las Vegas. The Rat Pack era over, the city had become seedy, developing a reputation as a town of Mafiosi, prostitutes, and hardened gamblers. Wynn began to make it once again an upscale resort town, with gambling just one of a number of pleasures afforded.
In 1980, Wynn tried his luck on the opposite side of the country, building a Golden Nugget on the Atlantic City Boardwalk at Park Place. The casino quickly became known for luxury and world-class entertainment, and he sold it to Bally's in 1987.
Two years later, back in Vegas, Wynn built the Mirage Hotel on the Strip, financing some of it with the proceeds from the Atlantic City sale but raising most of the money by selling junk bonds. This project was the first modern luxury resort in Las Vegas and the first hotel built on the Strip since 1973. In the ensuing building boom, developers spent $12 billion making Vegas America's premier tourism destination -- and the fastest growing city in the country.
Among those developers was Wynn himself, who built Treasure Island next to his Mirage in 1993 and the Bellagio on the other side of Caesar's Palace, on the former site of The Dunes**, five years after that. In the interim, Wynn's bankrupted the publisher of an unauthorized biography, Running Scared. He sued for libel over the advertisements for the book, which implied he was connected to organized crime.
In 2000, MGM Grand bought Wynn out, taking over his four Vegas casinos, an undeveloped site in Atlantic City, and the Beau Rivage on Mississippi's Gulf Coast. Later that year, Wynn purchased and closed the Desert Inn, another part of the former Hughes empire, where a resort bearing his name opened in the spring of 2005. The hotel is expensive, but the shops are no different from those in every other hotel on the Strip
Unfortunately, Wynn might not see it. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at age 29, he has been gradually going blind. He established the Michael M. Wynn Center for Inherited Retinal Diseases at the John Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah in memory of his father, who also had the incurable disease.
*When I asked my girlfriend "who's Steve Wynn?" she said "he's sort of like Donald Trump. . . ."
**And across Flamingo Road from the strip of land that gave Wynn his start.