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The maximalism of the American Dream

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The gambling business runs in Steve Wynn's family, in more ways than one: His father ran a number of bingo halls up and down the eastern part of the country and, when he died suddenly, left his family with the burden of $350,000 worth of gambling debt. The tragedy forced 21 year-old Steve to drop out of a place at Yale Law School (he'd already received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania) and take on the family business himself. Within a year, the company was expanding and, before long, the younger Wynn had paid down his father's outstanding debt and was in a position to move onto new ventures.

He did so in 1967, moving to Las Vegas and buying a 5% stake in the Frontier Hotel. The whole business was sold to famous eccentric Howard Hughes not long after. Wynn turned a profit had clearly got a taste for the business from this early success. He and his family remained in Vegas, where he bought and sold land, and entered into various other business ventures, including importing wine and liquor. Wynn was able to use the profits from another windfall deal involving Hughes to buy his first controlling stake in a casino: The Golden Nugget, among Vegas' most venerable gambling institutions. Before long, he'd become the majority shareholder and, at 31 years-old, the youngest casino owner in the city.

Steve Wynn continued to expand his businesses, adding a hotel complex to the Golden Nugget and opening a second casino under the same name in Atlantic City, before eventually selling it for $440 million in the late '80s. In the meantime, Steve Wynn's major interests remained in Las Vegas. The Golden Nugget continued to grow, with Frank Sinatra and others playing, and the opening of new restaurants and more hotel towers. The profits from the sale of the Golden Nugget Atlantic City went towards the design (personally overseen by Wynn) and construction of The Mirage, his first major casino on the Las Vegas Strip itself: The Mirage. This and his subsequent Treasure Island Hotel and Casino, built right next door to a design likewise overseen by Wynn, set new standards for luxury and entertainment on the Strip. However, they were nothing compared with the Bellagio, opened a decade later. At the time of its opening, it was the most expensive hotel anywhere on the planet, and, in addition to the now standard opulent hotel, casino, restaurants and concert venues, boasted a botanical gardens and the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art.

The Mirage and the Bellagio established a pattern for Steve Wynn: Open the world's most extraordinary hotel, then, go one better. Having established water features and fine art as a standard part of the casino-hotel business, he subsequently, at Wynn Las Vegas, opened the first and only golf course on the Strip, added suites with private entrances and chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces. Oh, and a few koi ponds.


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