Steve Wynn Biography: Reviving Las Vegas
His name adorns ultra luxury resort casinos in Las Vegas and Macau. He was largely responsible for reviving Las Vegas in the 1990s. He's a billionaire and people around the world know his name: Steve Wynn.
Much of his fame comes from his wildly successful effort to breathe new life into a stagnant Las Vegas in the early 90s. A good number of the recognizable features in the Las Vegas skyline fall under the Wynn name. His company, Wynn Resorts Limited, operates big name resorts such as the Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas, Treasure Island, and more.
Steve Wynn was born in New Haven, Connecticut under the name Stephan Alan Weinberg in 1942. When he was four years old, his family had their last name changed to Wynn in a bid to avoid anti-Semitic sentiments that were somewhat common at the time.
His father ran a chain of bingo parlors and was able to provide the young Steve with a comfortable life, sending him to a private boys' school as a child and then on to the University of Pennsylvania. However, his father died in 1963 and left behind a $350,000 debt related to gaming.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English literature, he took over the family business and made good on the outstanding debt. He made enough money with the bingo parlors that he was able to buy a small stake in the Frontier Hotel and Casino in the early 1960s.
Moving to Vegas
In 1967, Steve moved to Las Vegas with his wife and became an executive and part-owner of the New Frontier. He was able to use his growing wealth over the next several years to get into a profitable wine and liquor importing business.
His wine business and ownership stake in the New Frontier both brought him enough money to dabble in Las Vegas real estate. A major real estate transaction in 1971 gave Steve Wynn a controlling stake in the Golden Nugget Casino. From this point on, Steve Wynn would go on to make a name for revitalizing and renewing the Las Vegas image.
Wynn completely renovated and upgraded the aging Golden Nugget, turning it into a four diamond resort that appealed to a wealthier audience. The project was a resounding success and it made Steve Wynn a rich man. The project was so successful, in fact, that Steven Wynn decided to build another Golden Nugget in Atlantic City in 1980.
Steve Wynn was able to sell the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas for $440 million in 1987. This big sale gave him the cash he needed to start on his biggest project yet: The Mirage. Steve's vision for the Mirage was to build a massive, lavish, and high class resort that would rival anything on the Strip.
His idea was considered a risky venture. He couldn't pay for its $630 million construction cost with cash, so he used junk bonds to finance the project. It was uncertain if the lavish, expensive resort would fare well in a Las Vegas that was in the midst of a long term decline.
The Mirage was finished in just two years and became a massive success. Its distinctive gold windows, indoor forest, replica volcano, and permanent Siegfried and Roy show brought guests from around the world.
The construction and success of the Mirage was a major turning point for Steve Wynn and Vegas itself. In the years leading up to the construction of the Mirage, Las Vegas was experiencing a decline. Vegas was starting to be seen as out-of-date, hokey, and a little dirty. When Steve Wynn's Mirage was completed, it prompted people to start viewing Vegas as a place to see and be seen.
With the success of the Mirage in mind, Steve Wynn turned his attention to his next major project. This one would be called Treasure Island. Steve had a family-friendly resort in mind. It would have a pirate theme, an arcade, kid-friendly pool, complex, simulated pirate battles on a manmade lake outside and a permanent showing of the now-famous Cirque du Soleil.
Treasure Island opened in 1993 at a cost of $450 million. It would eventually become one of the most iconic resorts in Las Vegas. Needless to say, this project too was a resounding success, but Steve Wynn didn't stop there.
He then moved on to build his most luxurious resort yet. It would be called the Bellagio, and it would cater to a high end clientele with lavish hotel rooms, the dancing Fountains of the Bellagio, and an indoor conservatory. It was completed in 1998, just five years after Treasure Island, at a cost of $1.6 billion.
The Bellagio has since hosted some of the highest stake table and poker games in the world, it has won the AAA Five Diamond Award a dozen times and it employs 8,000 people. This is one of the Steve Wynn's and Las Vegas' flagship destinations with high end shops and a reputation as one of the finest hotels in the world.
The very next year, Steve Wynn had the Beau Rivage built in Biloxi, Mississippi. He styled the resort as a combination between Mediterranean beauty and southern hospitality. With 1800 rooms, it earned the title as the largest resort-casino in the United States outside of Las Vegas. The resort did much in the way of establishing Biloxi as a tourist destination in the south.
In 2001, Steve revealed his next big move. He had plans to build yet another mega resort on the Vegas Strip. This one would be called the Wynn, and it would be his most ambitious project yet with a projected cost of nearly $3 billion.
He found funding for the resort and got to work in 2002. In 2005, the Wynn opened to the public. Just like the Bellagio, the Wynn was billed as an ultra-luxury resort-casino complete with high stakes games, 76,000 square feet of retail space, nearly 5,000 rooms, and a AAA Five Diamond ranking.
All told, Steve Wynn's success in business and gambling has netted him a personal fortune estimated at around $3.6 billion.
Steve Wynn met his wife Elaine while in college, and they got married for the first time in 1963. They got their first divorce in 1986, then got remarried in 1991 and then divorced yet again in 2010. In 2011, Wynn married his second wife, Andrea Hissom.
On July 26th, 1993, Steve Wynn's daughter Kevin Wynn was kidnapped from her home in Las Vegas. Two masked men entered the home, threatened her with guns, and took her for ransom. Steve Wynn conceded to their demands that same day and delivered $1.45 million in ransom money. He later found her in the back of her own car at McCarran International Airport.
The hostage-takers were apprehended after one of them attempted to buy a $200,000 Ferrari just a few days later. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced to decades in prison.
Throughout the kidnapping ordeal, Steve kept the events from his wife. When he found his daughter on the same day she was kidnapped, he called his wife and told her what had happened. His wife later said that she's extremely thankful for the way Steve handled the whole thing.
In more recent years, Steve Wynn has expanded his operations into Macau, opening a Wynn Macau and an Encore Macau. Like other casino moguls, Steve Wynn has seen the opportunities of gambling in Asia. Today, Macau's gambling industry dwarves that of Las Vegas. It's undoubtable that we'll be hearing more from Steve Wynn in the future. He's not anywhere near done with his work.
Author: Wesley Burns
Updated: March 2015
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