Steve Wynn is probably the reason I’m a Las Vegan.
Living in Flagstaff, Arizona, I had heard stories about this crazy idea of a volcano erupting every 15 minutes on the Las Vegas Strip.
I had to see it.
Apparently, millions of others felt the same way. Wynn’s success at The Mirage was followed by a massive expansion up and down the Strip.
For Wynn, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore were next up on the Strip. And off to the side, Shadow Creek, one of the nation’s greatest golf courses, was carved out of the desert.
Others added MGM Grand, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Paris Las Vegas, Stratosphere, Planet Hollywood, Monte Carlo and New York-New York.
The casino industry was becoming more of a business than an entertainment novelty. When the Las Vegas Sun came calling for me to join the staff as its business editor in 1991, I came with the anticipation of leading coverage of the likes of Steve Wynn and the creative geniuses that were transforming a city and making it one of the greatest growth stories in history.
Wynn is a smart and charismatic speaker who can paint a vivid landscape of words from his imagination. Who else but Wynn could come up with a lake in the middle of a desert with geysers that erupt in perfect choreography to an elegant soundtrack? To think it up might be easy; to execute it to icon status is something else.
Who else could come up with a restaurant where the walls and furnishings change every 30 minutes to reveal a new environment?
That’s one of the reasons last week’s meteoric dive from his company’s leadership role was so perplexing. How could somebody that smart allow himself to be cornered into the position of having to quit when what could be his greatest creative achievement is still on the drawing board?
All should acknowledge that Wynn is innocent until proved guilty of the various accusations of sexual misconduct. But all should also acknowledge that the preponderance of witness accounts about Wynn’s behavior is overwhelming. It doesn’t take a lot of smoke to conclude there has been a fire somewhere, and at this point, the clouds coming from Wynn’s executive tower are billowing.
It all seems to be about ego and the attitude that his position in the community entitles him to do just about anything to anybody and get away with it.
I’ve interviewed him a few times, covered his presentations and earnings calls. He can be mesmerizing.
When he first described Wynn Palace, his second property in Macau, I thought he was spewing hyperbole and bluster. Until I saw the place.
It is, without question, the most spectacular hotel I have ever seen. Sure, it looks a little amusement parkish with cable cars carrying passengers from the street to the building, but the treatments inside are stunning.
Wynn’s attention to detail is one of his trademarks. You can see that in the inlaid tiling and impressive floral arrangements at his Las Vegas properties.
I was there when he opened his first property in Macau, and it was clear he was in his element, pointing things out to all his new Chinese friends.
He preferred talking with the Time magazines and Wall Street Journals of the world more than with local media, frustrating for someone like me who sees how much his work means to Southern Nevada’s fortunes.
Local journalists have been hounding his public relations handlers for months for him to give an interview to talk more about the details of Paradise Park, the lagoon-centered attraction that reportedly is in design stage. Most people around here couldn’t wait to see what emerged from the artist’s canvas.
Wynn can surprise. One day, out of the blue, he called my desk phone without prior arrangement to talk about something about him in the news. Just as suddenly, he ended the call. “That’s enough for today.” Click.
One of my mentors, the late Jeff Simpson, had the same experience with him. We were perplexed.
I remember sitting with Wynn when his Sinatra restaurant opened at Wynn Las Vegas. All through the interview, he kept clutching at my arm, one of the things he does as a result of his retinitis pigmentosa. It makes you think: How could somebody stricken with such a terrible disease have the vision to create masterpiece after masterpiece.
He admires the artists before him, buying Picassos and Matisses for his collection. One day, the retinitis and the art collided. Showing Picasso’s “Le Reve” to friends, he accidentally put his elbow through the painting, which he was just about to sell to another collector for a reported $139 million.
Maybe that’s why he decided not to name his hotel Le Reve.
Instead, he simply called the hotel Wynn, and Steve Wynn’s signature is the company logo.
Now. we’re left wondering what happens next. Does the Wynn name, signature and logo disappear? Does he continue in some capacity in the casino business? A lot of that will be left up to regulators who will be making decisions based on the findings of four investigations that are underway.
If the allegations are proved to be true, it’s clear that Wynn forgot one of the basic tenets he impresses on his staff: Serve your guests with the very best and make them feel special. It’s clear there are dozens of women who feel Wynn didn’t do that for them.
And for the rest of us, we will be left wondering how someone with so much creative vision failed to see how the consequences of one’s actions can be so destructive.