Wynning Odds

From Bingo to Boomtown Luster

The modern-day Renaissance man studied at the University of Pennsylvania cultural anthropology and English literature, not business nor real estate. Wynn’s mentor growing up was his high school English teacher, David Edwards, who taught him dangling modifiers and antecedent pronoun agreements, not entrepreneurship. And his exposure to the casino industry was merely a weekend job at his father’s bingo operation in Maryland. “My weekly allowance,” he says.

However, Wynn says he always had an eye for detail. “I always had a feeling about space and color and decorating. My mother was an interior decorator, and color coordination, fabrics, and textures were things that were discussed around the house.”

Sixty days before Wynn graduated from the Ivy League, his father died of complications from an open heart surgery, leaving $350,000 of debt. “My father had relieved me from running the bingo my last semester of college, because I was getting ready to go to law school,” Wynn says. “I had no idea what shape the bingo was in, but I came back and said I’d fix it. It took me 10 months to get the money back.”

Wynn decided he wanted to be a real estate developer and had his sights on 27 acres of raw real estate land next to the Baltimore International Airport, with the hopes of turning it into an industrial park. “But I didn’t have $1 million to buy it,” he says. “I had $20,000.” Through contacts, the 23-year-old reached the billionaire real estate and insurance tycoon John D. MacArthur. “Here I was in the presence of this 72-year-old famous man, who had an unfiltered cigarette hanging out of his mouth, listening to my pitch,” Wynn precisely recalls. “I offered him half the property if he lent me $1 million. He said no but asked for my card.”

Two weeks later, MacArthur called, asked Wynn to meet him at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, and offered him the opportunity to be an investor of the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. In 1967, Wynn and his wife, Elaine, moved to Sin City. “That was the beginning for me,” Wynn says. “With my 3% interest, I was the slot manager, vice president of the company, and assistant credit manager.”

He was sent to the Bally Gaming factory in Chicago for two weeks to learn about slots. “I was about as interested in this stuff as I was about jumping off the roof,” he cracks. Instead, 23-year-old Wynn made his first hire. He stole the chief of production from Bally Gaming that first day and offered him a job (and a higher salary) to become the head of slot mechanics at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas.

“I did not stay to learn about the slot machines,” Wynn says of that day in Chicago. “Money comes in one end and out the other. That’s what I know about. The business is to get people to come to your place.”