Steve Wynn fueled big changes in casino resorts

Jun 8, 2016 11:02 AM

The Mirage was a game changer with an impact that reached beyond Las Vegas, tickling the imagination of big thinkers with resort plans elsewhere.

That’s the way Kevin DeSanctis remembers the impact of the $630 million Las Vegas Strip hotel and casino that opened in November 1989.

“People from other companies looked at it, saw the revenue we were generating from multiple sources and realized they were going to have to do some big spending on attractions of their own to stay competitive.”

DeSanctis ran The Mirage casino for Steve Wynn who had told everyone with an interest in the subject that he was taking aim at Caesars Palace, which was every high roller’s destination at that time (the 1980s) in Las Vegas.

“What The Mirage did,” DeSanctis said Tuesday, “was turn what had been thought of as the casino industry into the resort industry. It was a place everyone had to see without regard to where they might be staying.”

DeSanctis said it is important to remember that there had been nothing with any top of the marquee appeal opened in Las Vegas for a number of years. Interest in The Mirage began to build more than a year before its opening as Wynn used speaking opportunities to paint pictures of a promise that he said would be kept.

“Steve said he intended to create a destination like nothing the town had ever seen before. Caesars Palace and MGM got plenty of attention when they were new but by the end of the 1980s the town was needing something new. Steve delivered.”

The Mirage was such a big hit during its first weeks that the crowds it attracted created big problems.

The decision was made to ban people pushing baby strollers. They would not be allowed unless the people pushing the strollers  were guests. The crowds also made it difficult to process the coin needed for slot machines. This was a time before bill validators.

But as an attraction that brought the biggest of the high rollers into the property The Mirage was a huge success.

DeSanctis remembers a conversation with Wynn about what was known as the “hit sheet,” a list of casino customers who were bringing their big action to the tables.

“Unless you were winning or losing at least a million dollars you were not on the list and the names on the list at that time were all foreign, a lot of Asians and Chinese.”
The demand for restaurant reservations and the Siefgfried and Roy show was so great  that Wynn saw no reason to comp anyone but the biggest gamblers.”

This kind of appeal leading other casinos with high-end appeal to realize there was a lot of revenue to be made outside the casino a fact that The Mirage was among the first to publicize as it reported quarterly numbers

“If you tried to comp anyone but a very big gambler to the Siegfried and Roy show you could be guaranteed a conversation with Steve.”

DeSanctis concedes now that he counted himself among those who were unsure about this new resort’s ability to cover its daily nut.

“We had to make a little over a million dollars a day just to break even.” He laughs about that now. “Who ever heard of a hotel and casino making more than a million dollars each day of the year?”

But The Mirage did.

“The Mirage was definitely a game changer,” DeSanctis said, “no question about it.”

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: [email protected]