A swift fall for Steve Wynn, who spent decades shaping the modern-day Las Vegas Strip
Steve Wynn’s name still shimmers atop his casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Inside, the gift shop sells hats and T-shirts with Wynn’s name on them. The thick, white cocktail napkins in the bar still feature an imprint of his signature. Callers phoning the Wynn Las Vegas on Wednesday heard a familiar recorded voice when they got put on hold.
“Hi, I’m Steve Wynn,” it said. “I live in the hotel.”
He just doesn’t work there anymore.
The billionaire real estate mogul and powerful Republican Party donor resigned as chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts on Tuesday amid sexual misconduct allegations first reported in the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago. It was a shockingly swift fall for a man who spent decades reshaping Las Vegas from its mob and gambling roots into a resort destination focused on luxuries, high-end amenities and family-friendly spectacles.
For now, he departs an industry challenged in recent years by a generation of millennials who prefer entertainment to gambling, and a city that finds itself in competition with a growing number of cities that offer a similar array of enticements.
“Wynn was and is visionary,” said Michael Green, associate professor of history at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. “He commented in the ’80s that old Vegas didn’t need another casino, but it sure needed an attraction. He understood with the spread of gambling that Las Vegas had to do something else. Something different.”
Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Wynn “invented new things” at a time when the city was still in the midst of its grittier days of mob rule.
The son of a bingo parlor owner who arrived in Las Vegas from Atlantic City in 1967, Wynn brought such over-the-top features as “dancing” fountains that move to music and pirate ships to a landscape whose premier symbols of escape had been free booze, show girls and cheap shrimp cocktails.
His first construction project, in 1989, was the Mirage. At a cost of more than $600 million, it featured rare white tigers, an open atrium with lush foliage and truly luxury accommodations. It was the first new hotel built in decades and it spawned Treasure Island — the pirate-themed casino that Wynn saw as a draw for families who could watch buccaneers engage in fights aboard schooners in a lagoon — right along the Las Vegas Strip.
Wynn then set upon building the $1.6-billion Bellagio Hotel and Casino. With its iconic fountain show on an 8.5-acre man-made lake, the hotel served as the centerpiece of the film “Oceans 11,” and Wynn became the Strip’s ambassador for classy living. He seemed to relish the spotlight — much as he had in the early days, when he filmed a series of TV commercials with Frank Sinatra.
In 2000, Wynn lost the Mirage properties amid a takeover by Kirk Kerkorian’s MGM Resorts, but later opened the Wynn Casino in 2005, which at $2.7 billion was at the time the largest privately funded project in the nation.
The following year, he broke ground on the Encore — also noted for its five-star accommodations and high-end shopping. Other casinos followed.
John L. Smith, a Las Vegas-based journalist who wrote the book “Running Scared” about Wynn, said the casino magnate is known as an outsized personality who dominates his properties down to the last detail.
“There is an old expression that his former valet who I interviewed for ‘Running Scared’ told me,” Smith said. “Steve’s board of directors know one thing — they could vote ‘aye’ or ‘I resign.’ The company was built by Steve Wynn and was run by Steve Wynn.”
Wynn was in the midst of building a $2.4-billion casino project in Boston when the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced.
The Wall Street Journal said it had interviewed a number of women, many of whom were employees of Wynn’s, who said the casino owner had forced them to have sex with him. Wynn paid a $7.5-million settlement to a manicurist at his hotel who said she was forced to lie down on a massage table and submit to having sex, the newspaper reported.
This week, the Las Vegas Review Journal unearthed a previously unpublished story from 20 years ago that reported similar allegations of sexual misconduct by Wynn, including an account from a woman who said she was pressured to have sex with the casino owner in order to keep her job.
Wynn has been defiant amid the controversy and, even in his resignation statement Tuesday, there was no note of contrition.
“In the last couple of weeks, I have found myself the focus of an avalanche of negative publicity,” Wynn said. “As I have reflected upon the environment this has created — one in which a rush to judgment takes precedence over everything else, including the facts — I have reached the conclusion I cannot continue to be effective in my current roles.”
Green said the allegations of sexual misconduct could have a broad impact on the casino industry going forward.
“Unquestionably, women have been underrepresented in executive positions, objectified and mistreated,” Green said. “At the same time, there’s no question that, for Las Vegas and a lot of other places and attractions, sex sells. We as Las Vegans have long struggled, or avoided struggling, to come to grips with what all this means. I do think and I hope the good that will come out of this is a greater realization of the role women need to play in this industry, in this community — and everywhere.”
The powerful Culinary Union, which represents 57,000 people, said in a statement after the allegations surfaced that it has fought for women among its rank and file, including giving workers the ability to negotiate against wearing skimpy uniforms.
Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline said union members were “deeply disturbed” by the allegations against Wynn and supported a full investigation.
“As a union of strong women who have never accepted sexual harassment and gender discrimination, we respect the women who come forward to change what should never have been,” she said. Union officials said they will attempt to negotiate safety buttons for 14,000 guest room attendants and stronger protections against sexual harassment and gender discrimination as negotiations for a new contract get underway this month.
Becky Harris, the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s first female chair, who took on that role last month, said Wednesday that the board will continue its investigation.
The fallout for Wynn has extended beyond his casino empire, however. He had already resigned as finance chairman for the Republican National Committee after becoming a booster for President Trump in 2016. And the University of Pennsylvania announced Tuesday that it was removing his name from a building and stripping him of an honorary degree.
Green said it will be more difficult to do that in Las Vegas.
“His fingerprints are everywhere,” Green said. “The hotel is still there. What he built is still around even as it appears a big part of his reputation has imploded.”
Goodman, the former mayor, said it’s not clear how Wynn will end up being remembered. “The whole country is going through an evaluation” amid the growing number of sexual misconduct allegations being leveled at powerful figures.
While he didn’t want to comment on Wynn’s situation, he said, “I thought of that Shakespeare quote: ‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.’”
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