- Encore Wynn owner Steve Wynn has never shaken off accusations that he was linked to the mobsters
- The tycoon is believed to be worth $2.5 billion
- Wynn himself has vigorously denied any involvement with the Mob
By Tom Leonard
PUBLISHED:16:15 EST, 31 August 2012| UPDATED:18:00 EST, 31 August 2012
They say it’s a rare man who walks away from Las Vegas with nothing to regret, and as Prince Harry counts the cost of his escapades in Sin City, he may be coming to regret the day he ever made the acquaintance of Steve Wynn.
Wynn, the self-proclaimed King of Las Vegas, is the billionaire owner of the five-star Encore Wynn resort, the opulent hotel-casino in whose eight-room, £5,100-a-night suite the prince was photographed playing strip billiards.
Unsubstantiated reports this week have suggested that cocaine was snorted in the suite, and that a known prostitute was among the guests.
There are even rumours of a video tape capturing the night’s events. So how did the third-in-line to the throne come to meet — even befriend — a septuagenarian gambling mogul?
Steve Wynn, a flamboyant showman with a surgically-enhanced, wrinkle-free face, carefully coiffed hair, a volcanic temper and a trophy wife, is famous for befriending celebrities whose patronage would be good for business.
Last November, 70-year-old Wynn was spotted having dinner with the prince in one of his Vegas steakhouses while the Prince was enjoying a weekend break from an advanced helicopter training course in Arizona.
Waiving the bills of celebrities is common practice in Vegas, and it remains unclear who paid the estimated £30,000 bill for Harry’s recent stay. According to Wynn’s spokesman, the tab was not picked up by either the tycoon or his hotel.
Is the prince welcome to return? ‘I can’t see why not,’ the spokesman said.
Wynn is unlikely to be perturbed by Harry’s naked shenanigans, but if drugs do turn out to have been involved, he may swiftly seek to distance himself from the events. He may be Las Vegas’s most revered casino owner, but he still has his gambling licence — and his reputation — to think about.
It is a reputation that Wynn is eager to protect. He has worked hard to erase the stains of the past.
Today, he is widely credited as the man who single-handedly ‘cleaned up’ Vegas and made it into a place in which Wall Street could invest and young families could holiday (if parents don’t mind their children collecting the prostitutes’ calling cards which litter the pavement).
Yet for all his denials, Wynn, who is worth $2.5 billion, has never shaken off accusations that he was linked for many years to the mobsters who once ruled Las Vegas.
He has weathered successive U.S. investigations over everything from drug-dealing to money-laundering, and has never been found to have committed any wrong-doing.
In Britain, the authorities have proved harder to convince. When he tried to open a casino in London to exploit the influx of rich Arabs in the early Eighties, Scotland Yard denied him a licence. But in the desert city of Las Vegas, he remains a swaggering icon. He has a reputation for being ‘sophisticated’ — but that’s by Vegas standards.
This is a man who bought Impressionist masterpieces … only to hang them on the walls of his casinos; who reputedly blew his finger off while playing with a gun given to him by a former Mob hitman, and who boasts that his wife Andrea has ‘the greatest butt in the world’.
Money is no object. In 2005, Wynn sank $2.7 billion into building just one hotel — the curved glass and steel Wynn Las Vegas. He then did the same again a few years later with the Encore.
So enamoured is he with the idea of himself as Sin City royalty that he arranged his wedding last year to coincide with that of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Hollywood star Clint Eastwood was best man and lingerie model Caprice a bridesmaid. The reception, held in the ballroom of Wynn’s Encore resort, boasted a 500-strong guest list which included Sylvester Stallone, Steven Spielberg, Lionel Richie, Sir Philip Green and Celine Dion.
Each guest left with a five-inch high replica of the tiered wedding cake, but it’s unlikely Wynn or his rake-thin new wife enjoyed much of the banquet. Both are vegans, and the youth-obsessed Wynn, who exists on a diet of vitamin pills, liquidised walnuts and the occasional indulgent dribble of olive oil, boasts that he still has a 32in waistline.
After years of hard graft and wheeler-dealing, he has earned the right to behave as he wishes. The son of an East Coast bingo parlour operator and hardened gambler, the brash and handsome Wynn Jnr expanded the family business to Las Vegas with a string of clever investments and ambitious hustling.
In the Seventies and Eighties, when Wynn was building his empire, Las Vegas was full of the mobsters who had originally built its gambling industry.
Some say it was impossible to work in the city and not come into contact with mafiosi, even unwittingly. Others have suggested that, even so, Wynn had an unusually large number of brushes with the Mob.
Wynn himself has vigorously denied any involvement with the Mob, and none of the numerous law enforcement investigations for gambling licences have ever concluded that he worked for or with organised crime.
Games room: Suites like this one at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, which could be the same as Harry’s, each have a pool table used for the infamous game of strip billiards
In 1967, he was with some business associates of noted mobsters on a private yacht cruise on a lake in Nevada when a naked young woman somehow fell over the back of the boat and was chopped almost in half by the propeller blades. Her death prompted an investigation, but everyone on board denied having seen the incident.
And he had trouble with officials in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1986 after investigators discovered mobster Tony Castelbuono, a friend of Wynn, was laundering the profits of heroin trafficking at his gambling tables. Wynn almost lost his gambling licence.
Today, such tales of the Mob are just water under the bridge. Wynn has re-invented himself as the business genius who demolished seedy gambling joints along the Vegas Strip and replaced them with slick hotel-casinos such as the Mirage (the city’s first 3,000-bed hotel), the Treasure Island and the Bellagio.
Part of his success has been his ability to turn on the charm with important people. But Wynn is notorious, too, for his temper. In 1991, he reached an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed sum with the former president of Wynn’s Golden Nugget casino, who described Wynn as a womanising, brutal boss.
In allegations made in documents lodged at court, it was said that he would get so angry that his ‘eyes bulged and he started screaming at the top of his lungs and banging his head on the table’.
There was no admission of liability by Wynn, who denied the allegations.
His mother Zelma claims his tyrannical behaviour is the result of frustration over his failing eyesight.
The tycoon suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive genetic disease that effectively gives him tunnel vision by destroying his ability to see peripheral images. In a dark room, he is completely blind.
His vision may be failing, but for years he was infamous for his roving eye, keeping keys to empty rooms at his various hotels for trysts. He was known to favour his female blackjack croupiers.
All that came to a stop when he met the beautiful Mrs Wynn. Usually described as a ‘British socialite, 48-year-old Andrea was, in fact, born in New York but, as her proud husband likes to stress, was raised in England and France. Tres sophistique.
It all sounds rather less chic when you learn that the family moved to France because her father, a wheeler-dealer named Victor Danenza, fled there in 1976 to escape an FBI fraud investigation.
Before becoming the second Mrs Wynn, Andrea had lived in London with her first husband, Texan banker Robert Hissom, a former polo-playing friend of Prince Charles.
She met Wynn in 2008 in St Tropez, where he keeps a yacht, and the couple began a very public romance. Wynn divorced his long-suffering first wife Elaine, after 46 years of marriage, and wed Andrea last year.
Elaine made around $740 million from the settlement — one of the biggest payouts in U.S. divorce history. The costly divorce appears not to have troubled Mr Wynn, who is delighted with his new wife.
‘It’s like God made a woman for me,’ he once said, before pointing out the part of his wife he most admired — ‘the greatest butt in the world’.
It all goes to show that money can buy you neither taste nor manners. Even Wynn’s attempts to acquire a collection of old masterpieces have invited accusastions that he was vulgar and greedily acquisitive.
He has, since the late Nineties, spent hundreds of millions of dollars on paintings by Picasso and Degas, Caravaggio and Titian. He has several times scooped the world’s great galleries at auction, only to horrify the art world by hanging his purchases in his casinos.
At 70, he shows no sign of slowing down — though controversy continues to dog him. He is embroiled in a three-year court battle with Joe Francis, founder of the soft-porn video empire Girls Gone Wild.
In documents lodged at court, Francis claims Wynn threatened — in an email — that he would kill him over a $2 million gambling debt. Wynn is alleged to have written that he would hit Francis ‘in the back of the head with a shovel’.
Wynn denies the allegations and claims no such email exists.
Pictures taken during Prince Harry’s stay on the island of Necker were posted on Facebook by his friend Arthur Landon (left). Cressida Bonas (right), whom the prince is said to have dated, was also on the trip
In Asia, where Wynn now earns 70 per cent of his profits from the gambling mecca of Macau, a resort on the South China Sea, he is embroiled in a battle with a former business partner, Kazuo Okada.
This week, Okada sued Wynn for $140 million for libel after each accused the other of paying bribes within the Asian gambling industry.
No amount of black marble and old masters can hide the sleaziness at the heart of Las Vegas. It is hard to believe Wynn when he claims he could just as easily have gone into family theme parks if Walt Disney hadn’t done it first.
Indeed, it seems about as likely as Prince Harry settling for free entry to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle rather than a weekend with his colourful acquaintances in Sin City