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How Steve Wynn transformed the Casino Experience


6 Apr 2019

A household name in Las Vegas, Steve Wynn is the driving force behind the casino industry we see today.

Born Stephen Alan Wienberg, his father changed the family name to Wynn, with Steve aged four, as way of “avoiding anti-Jewish discrimination”.

His father ran a number of bingo halls in Maryland, where he was raised and, despite having aspirations to pursue a law career, the privately educated Wynn took over the family business when his father died, leaving $350,000 of gambling debts.

Expansion takes Wynn west

Within just one year, Wynn had grown the business significantly and four years later, relocated to Las Vegas, where he really began to gain a foothold in the casino industry.

The success of the family business, was a great foundation to allow him to acquire a stake in the Frontier Hotel and Casino, while almost at the same time he forged a partnership with one most significant figures in the city.

Banker Edward Parry Thomas helped Wynn to build Las Vegas into what it is today, helping him to secure funding for land deals, hotels and casinos to gradually build them into some of the biggest brands in the gambling industry.

One of his first major developments was the Golden Nugget, of which he bought a controlling interest in during the late 1960s. At the time, this was nothing more than a small gambling hall on what is now known as ‘The Strip’, though would be unrecognisable compared to today.

Wynn soon transformed this into a magnificent resort hotel and casino, simultaneously attracting wealthier guests to the area in the process. The youngest owner of a casino, Wynn began forging relationships with some of the most famous celebrities of the time, including singer Frank Sinatra, who played at the Golden Nugget on numerous occasions.

By then, Wynn had set the stage for future success. Looking to capitalise on the Golden Nugget brand, he secured permission to build one in Atlantic City from scratch, which soon became a huge hit.

Although, upon completion, it was the second smallest in the city, it was the highest earning by 1983 and four years later it banked Wynn $440 million when he sold.

Regeneration of Las Vegas

By the late 1980s, the city had entered into a phase of redevelopment with Wynn leading the charge. In 1989, he opened the Mirage resort focusing on luxury never before seen on the strip, with the businessman spending $630 million on the project.

This sparked a $12 billion development explosion on the Strip, causing not so much as a ripple effect, but more of a tidal wave as other high rise hotels followed suit. The city was booming, led by Wynn’s resorts as an influx of tourists flooded the city on a grand scale. In a bid to bring tighter control to his casinos, the tycoon was also the first to introduce CCTV coverage to each of his gambling tables.

In 1993, Wynn opened the Treasure Island resort, next door to the Mirage, at a cost of $450 million, intending this to be family-friendly, having included swimming pools and pirate ships, depicting the Battle of Buccaneer Bay.

Not content with settling, the ambitious Wynn was soon seeking to outdo himself. In 1998, he opened what could be labelled as his pièce de résistance in his portfolio, with the Bellagio, considered by many at the time and even now, to be one of the world’s finest hotel resorts.

Costing $1.6 billion, it was the most expensive in the world and complete with casino and synchronised dancing fountains as its masterpiece, helped to propel Wynn into the centre of the universe.

By this point, the city was attracting 10s of millions of visitors per year, all eager to be a part of a new gambling experience, not just focused on casinos but entertainment, all initiated by Wynn.

Capitalising on his relationship with Sinatra, the wily Wynn soon realised that when casino and entertainment were mixed, it made for a more complete experience and not only that, significantly added to the coffers.

By the late 2000s, Wynn had expanded into Macau with much success, while he built two more resorts in Las Vegas. Wynn Las Vegas, which included a golf course opened in 2005 for $2.7 billion, while three years later, Encore Las Vegas opened.

Had it not been for Wynn’s decision to take over his father’s business, Las Vegas may not be what it is today and what we know as the gambling experience, might have taken a completely different route.