Howard Hughes, Steve Wynn and the History Behind the Wynn Hotel and Casino

By Steve Beauregard

A View of the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel and Casino
A View of the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel and Casino

Before the glimmering luxurious dual bronze towers we know today as the Wynn and the Encore stood what was, and will always be a Las Vegas casino icon: the Desert Inn.

Wilbur Clark, who had become successful owning a string of bars in Southern California, opened “Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn” on April 24, 1950. It was just the fifth casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Upon it’s opening it became the most glamorous casino in town – even more so than the newer Flamingo down the strip.

With a large showroom, modern swimming pool, and the strip’s only golf course, the Desert Inn quickly succeeded in attracting the high rollers of the day. The Desert Inn was a major filming location for the original “Ocean’s 11” movie, which stared the infamous Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.

The successful casino opened several new towers over the years, and became known as the “D.I.” On Thanksgiving weekend, 1966, the D.I. would change forever when eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes rolled into town and took up residency on the hotel’s ninth floor.

Hughes seemed to like the suite, and extended his stay. The only problem for the Desert Inn is that Hughes didn’t gamble – meaning he was taking the resort’s nicest suite away from a high roller, and away from someone who would presumably drops a bundle on the tables and in the machines below. He may have booked two entire floors of rooms, but D.I. management would rather have those rooms filled with more degenerate patrons.

So what happens to you when you’re at a hotel and you ignore the check-out time? Well if you happen to be a billionaire, you purchase the hotel, which is what Howard Hughes did with the Desert Inn, becoming the sole owner in March 1967.

My favorite story about Hughes’ stay at the Desert Inn involves his passion for late night TV movies. As the story goes, Hughes, (who had purchased several Las Vegas TV stations), was watching a movie and especially liked a certain scene. In that day, before the Tivo, DVD, or even VCRs, you were out of luck if you wanted to rewind a film. But Hughes was not to be denied. He called up the poor control room manager at the TV station and told him to rewind the movie. Don’t ever say rich people don’t have more fun than you or I.

After Hughes’ death, the DI fell into corporate hands, before eventually being sold to Steve Wynn.

The maestro of the Las Vegas strip, Steve Wynn, opened the Wynn on April 28, 2005. With 2,716 rooms spread out over 49 floors, and with 111,000 square feet of casino space and 5.2 million square feet in all, the cost was estimated to be $2.7 billion. The signature exterior feature of the resort was a 170 foot tall mountain, (mostly only visible from the interior).His earlier casino ventures included ownership in an Atlantic City casino, the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas, the Mirage, Treasure Island, the Bellagio. After Wynn, he developed the resort’s sister complex, Encore.

After a hostile takeover attempt led to Wynn selling his interest in the Bellagio to MGM Mirage in 2000, the casino-less casino mogul purchased the fading, but Vegas classic resort, the Desert Inn, on April 27, 2000 for $270 million. He closed the Desert Inn for good four months later, on August 28, 2000.

He proceeded to demolish the resort, completing the task in 2004. Along with the Desert Inn golf course, Steve Wynn purchased other property bordering the old Desert Inn parcel, bringing his land holdings at the site to 215 acres.

While in the planning stages, the resort was initially going to be called Le Reve, which is French for “The Dream,” and is also the name of an early 1930’s painting by Pablo Picasso that Steve Wynn owns. The resort’s marketing researching showed that the Wynn name had more appeal than a fancy French word that many Americans wouldn’t butcher off their tongues. “Yeah, Marge and I are going to stay at the “Lee Ree Vee.” Thus, in 2003, Le Reve was ditched in favor of Wynn Las Vegas.

Wynn Las Vegas opened on the same day as his then-wife’s Elaine’s birthday. Exactly one year later, April 28, 2006, Wynn and his wife broke ground on the Encore.

As he has in the past with the Mirage and the Bellagio, Steve Wynn has put his mark on the Las Vegas skyline with the Wynn Las Vegas and its sister property, Encore. The dual resorts are two of the most popular and glamorous in a city known for excess.

In 2004, Wynn Resorts, (the public company headed by Steve Wynn) was granted a license to build a casino in Macau, a then-sleepy island town off the coast of China. Today, Wynn Macau opened in September of 2006, and is one of the most successful and profitable casinos in the world.