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Elaine Wynn opens up about her passions, business, Planned Parenthood

Updated March 14, 2017 - 12:33 pm

Vegas Voices is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.

It’s difficult to imagine a time when Elaine Wynn was not an influential woman. But Las Vegas was a vastly different world when she and then-husband Steve Wynn arrived in the late 1960s.

“Well, I had the advantage of being married to an executive, although I do believe I established my own name,” she said.

That she did. The Wynns would go on to build Wynn Resorts into a casino empire in the United States and abroad. Along the way, Elaine Wynn became a devoted advocate for the needs of children, particularly public education students, embracing a love of the arts, philanthropy and basketball.

She is a 1999 inductee to the Gaming Hall of Fame; chairwoman of the board of the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation; president of the Nevada state Board of Education; co-chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art board; and was appointed to the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., by former President Barack Obama.

She’s even on the board of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, and a regular at major hoops events.

Wynn is perhaps most passionate about education and continues to work on balancing inequity among schools in Nevada and on a national level. She is particularly proud of the Las Vegas elementary school that bears her name on Edna Avenue.

With March being Women’s History Month, we caught up with Wynn to ask about her experience as a businesswoman in Las Vegas, her recent donation of $1 million to Planned Parenthood and more.

Review-Journal: What is a normal Las Vegas day like for you?

Elaine Wynn: I start my day with a 3-mile walk, especially here with the weather as beautiful as it has been. Later, people come to the foundation to discuss anything from Three Square (Food Bank) to political stuff. If I am working on education, I spend a lot of time preparing for the state board.

I like to go to the Smith Center, and I recently checked out Zuma at The Cosmopolitan. I like to go out and see what’s happening, but I’m not a lady who “lunches.”

RJ: What was it like being a woman in the gaming industry when you got here?

EW: Claudine Williams (co-owner of Silver Slipper casino in the 1960s) was a mentor for me at that time. There was precedent set for women being in the upper echelon. But it was definitely still a man’s world in Vegas. All the dealers were men — women were cocktail waitresses or dancers. I’m very happy that we now have a lot of women very high up in our company.

RJ: Can you tell me a little more about your recent $1 million donation to Planned Parenthood?

EW: I do respect that people have the right to their opinions, but I do not understand why an organization so vital would be so discredited and (targeted for defunding). My interest has been in providing health care and services and allowing people to have access — separate and apart from the things that bother people.

I saw my friend Sheryl Sandberg made a donation to them without even saying anything about it. I sent her an email and said, “Good for you. I’m gonna do that too.” I didn’t even think 10 seconds about it.

RJ: Where does your dedication to education come from?

EW: It began with the Golden Nugget Scholarship, which eventually turned into a state scholarship program. Through that, I was exposed to the best and brightest, and that led me to wonder about the other end of the spectrum.

Although I have been involved with the entire kindergarten through higher education spectrum, I currently serve as president of the Nevada State Board, which is an appointed position and was the direct result of work I did with Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning. I also visit my elementary school, which I am extremely proud of. I went and read with them after Christmas. The longest most consistent interest I’ve had is in education. It has grounded me.

RJ: What do you spend your time on outside of education?

EW: I love the arts — in all forms. I have been a fan of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (in Manhattan) for a long time. I recently made a donation to the company, which will go toward a wing to be completed this year. They travel a lot and have performed at the Smith Center.

I am a trustee at the Kennedy Center and maintain a heavy interest in their pilot program “Any Given Child,” which has active programming in Las Vegas.

Steve and I have collected art and had a wonderful collection at the Bellagio before we sold it. It all starts from the things you have and if you don’t have them you try to bring them to where you are.

RJ: What are you passionate about?

EW: I am a basketball freak. I love the Clippers. I love Cleveland and the Warriors. I know someone from most teams so I try to pull for whoever I can.

My granddaughter — who will be attending Duke — is interning for the Clippers right now. She is my basketball buddy. She’s the one I can talk about hoops with.

I’m on the Basketball Hall of Fame board. If I’m in mixed company and they’re giving me a funny look for talking about basketball, they usually loosen up once they hear that.

RJ: What do you look forward to the most in coming home to Las Vegas?

EW: I like to come in on a late afternoon flight when the sky is passionately colored against the valley, providing contrast. It’s beautiful. I have always loved the desert. The desert is the most raw place on earth, and Las Vegas is arguably one of the least. I love the juxtaposition.

Read more from Anna Williams at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at awilliams@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AnnaWilliamsRJ on Twitter.

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