Las Vegas legend promises to take enclave by storm

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 February, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 February, 2002, 12:00am

From Steve Wynn - the 'father' of modern-day Las Vegas - Macau can expect big, elaborate and expensive.

The son of a bingo hall operator, Mr Wynn studied English literature and business before building the Mirage Resorts casino empire, starting with a stake in a single casino in 1972 at the age of 30.

In 2000, he accepted a takeover bid from MGM Grand that valued his company at US$6.7 billion (HK$52.25 billion), and personally walked away with an estimated US$500 million before tax.

Articles charting his progress use descriptions like visionary and genius - as well as litigious, perfectionist and arrogant.

He is famed for his art collection, but has deteriorating eyesight, caused by a debilitating eye disease retinitis pigmentosa. Permanently tanned, his youthful looks belie his 59 years.

Fittingly for a gambling tycoon, he is willing to take risks.

In 1998, then still with Mirage, he opened what was reported to be the world's most expensive hotel-casino, the US$1.6 billion, 3,000-room Bellagio, complete with 4.65-hectare lake, 6.8-hectare greenhouse and US$300 million art collection.

'The issue was how do you build a place so pre-empting, so overwhelmingly attractive and delicious, that people who do not come to Las Vegas now will say we have got to go,' Mr Wynn said of Bellagio. Now he is in the process of building something to compete with Bellagio, now owned by the merged MGM Mirage - Le Reve, named after a Picasso he owns, along with wife, Elaine, a former Miss Miami Beach.

Mr Wynn plans to open a 2,455-room hotel on the Le Reve site in 2004 at an estimated cost of US$1.2 billion to US$1.6 billion.

His fame has come at a personal cost, with his eccentrically named daughter, Kevin, kidnapped in 1993. She was freed after he paid a US$1.45 million ransom.

Mr Wynn's developments in Macau will be built under the company name Wynn Resorts (Macau), a group including Macau businessman Wong Chi-seng.

Macau is sure to get something more than a mere gaming house from Mr Wynn. Claiming Walt Disney as one of his major inspirations, he says he became fascinated by the possibility of creating an entire fantasy land or an alternative reality. 'It's a reflection of the romantic spirit, a world the way you wish it could be,' he said.