Wynning Odds

The Game Plan

For more than 40 years, the genius businessman has raised the stakes in Las Vegas, but he’s quick to credit banker/financier E. Parry Thomas for much of his success. Wynn met the most powerful banker in Nevada at the demise of the Frontier Hotel era. “Thomas became my second father, and everything that has happened to me from that point forward is due to him.”

The banker lent Wynn $1.2 million to sell prime real estate to billionaire Howard Hughes. Wynn then took his profits and bought stock in the Golden Nugget, which he eventually took over. He also owned the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, N.J.

Still, prior to the 1990s, there was no glamour on the Strip, no elegance in the hotels. Vegas in the ‘70s and ‘80s was stuck in a time capsule. Then Wynn changed the façade of Las Vegas, starting with the Mirage in 1989, which was his first major Strip casino and hotel.

The visionary began creating a world everybody wanted to be part of. The erupting volcano at the Mirage, the sinking pirate ship at Treasure Island, and the fountains that dance to Italian singers at the Bellagio brought over-the-top entertainment and awe to Sin City.

Playwright Neil Simon is partially to thank for the onset of Wynn’s vision. “I was watching TV,” Wynn recalls. “Neil Simon was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson discussing (his comedy) Plaza Suite and Johnny said to Neil, ‘How do you do it?’ And Neil said, ‘Johnny, it’s not a hard concept; comedy lies in conflict.’”

Wynn pondered this idea the next day while parked across the street from the property that would be the Mirage in his 1985 powder blue Mercedes 280SL. “I thought, ‘What the hell kind of conflict could I set up here that would fascinate people?’ I remember saying to myself, ‘Suppose if what they see with their eyes don’t match with what they see in their head. Suppose if what you see is so out of sync, it doesn’t make sense.’” Conflict creates tension, and tension can bring people into his buildings, Wynn reasoned. At that moment, he thought of the musical South Pacific and the idea of bringing Bali Ha’i, the volcanic Hawaiian island from the movie, to the desert. He outfitted his first megaresort with a lush waterfall, indoor forest, and erupting volcano.