Steve Wynn says unique factors helped him prosper in Las Vegas

Updated May 4, 2017 - 9:43 pm

Steve Wynn believes his background and the opening of Las Vegas to capital markets enabled him and his designer Roger Thomas to rewrite Las Vegas architectural history.

Las Vegas casino owners and developers of the 1940s and 1950s struggled to scrap together enough money for a casino and lacked architectural and design imagination, he told several hundred people on Thursday at the Hospitality Design Expo at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Casino owners back then didn’t know the names of any major designers, he said.

“We had the overwhelming advantage of college degrees,” Wynn said, referring to himself and Thomas. “Our predecessors of the 40s and 50s were not such fortunate people. They were self-made men from the fringes of legitimate business.”

Wynn, 75, moved to Las Vegas in the 1960s after receiving his English degree from the University of Pennsylvania. When he arrived in Las Vegas, the city was comprised of monolithic buildings “that all looked alike,” he said. Wynn soon met Thomas, whose father, E. Parry Thomas, was the key banker to the Las Vegas casino industry at the time.

Wynn later invited Thomas to join him. The two have worked together on 13 projects over 37 years, they said.

Wynn and Thomas built The Mirage, which set a new standard for casinos when it opened in 1989. They also built Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore and are building a casino in Boston. The two did not discuss Paradise Park, their next project on the Strip.

Wynn, dressed in a light blue suit and yellow tie, told the crowd the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami inspired him and Jay Sarno, the Caesars Palace architect, to imagine a new type of resort for Las Vegas. Luckily for Wynn, money was just becoming available.

“All of a sudden, Las Vegas was open to legitimate financing besides the Teamsters, and big money showed up. And (Thomas) and I were just the right age, in the right place at the right time.”

Wynn said he would never have come to Las Vegas had his father not passed away six weeks before he graduated. He said he was accepted to Yale University Law School the day before his father died.

“I would never, ever have been allowed to come to Las Vegas had my father been alive,” Wynn said. “But all of a sudden I was the head of the family bingo business in Maryland, and I could do what I wanted.”

Contact Todd Prince at or 702-383-0386. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

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