Thirty-years-ago, the Mirage opened its doors, ushering in the era of the mega-resort on the Las Vegas Strip.

The resort – built by Steve Wynn – is known for its erupting volcano, tropical setting with lagoons and palm trees.

When Steve Wynn first announced his project, he promised a “totally integrated balanced resort” that also has a casino.

Alan Feldman was hired by Wynn to run the communications department at the new resort. Feldman told KNPR's State of Nevada that when he first talked to Wynn, he was not interested in moving to Las Vegas.

“I would say that the thing that attracted me the most was I actually didn’t care much for Las Vegas," he said, "And when I first met this guy, he was describing a city that actually sounded fascinating and that I didn’t see around.” 

Feldman said he had a six-hour lunch with Wynn to talk about the property and then later toured the resort when it was under construction.

“It was everything he said it was going to be. It was really remarkable,” he said.

Like many people who move to Las Vegas, Feldman expected to stay in the city for a few years but now its been 30 years. Currently, he's the distinguished fellow in Responsible Gaming at UNLV's International Gaming Institute.

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While the Mirage team was working on getting everything ready for the opening, the outside world was talking about the enormous cost of the project. 

It was commonly floated that the new resort would need to make $1 million day to cover its costs. Feldman said, on one hand, those inside the project were confident it would be the world's best hotel-casino and on the other, they were worried.

“On the other side of hubris was abject fear, because throughout the pre-opening running, I guess you could almost call it a theme, it would come up every now and again: ‘What happens if we get to November 22 and we’re ready to open the doors and no one is there?’” he said.

Not only were people there, but a lot of people were there for opening day.

“It was nuts," Feldman said, "The Strip had to be closed down because there were so many people standing in order to get in.”

He said it took two hours to get everyone into the building and once they were inside Feldman said it was bedlam. 

Feldman recalls standing with Steve and Elaine Wynn just inside the doors of the resort when the public was allowed in. 

“It was really remarkable because almost everyone just stopped," he said, "They came into the doors ready to go do whatever they were there to do but they just stopped. And they looked at the rainforest and they saw the statues in the lobby and the marble on the floor. It stunned a whole lot of people.”

He said a number of people applauded when they walked through the doors. 

“I think that is part of what made the Mirage so successful is that the inside was, in fact, as spectacular as the outside,” Feldman said.

Howard Stutz was a gaming reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal at the time. He was there opening day. 

“They opened the gates and the mass of people… coming up the driveway was amazing,” he said.

Wynn had not let any photos of the resort out before the opening and that helped build the hype about the new property. It was the first new hotel on the Strip in 15 years.

Stutz said before the Mirage most of the resorts were older from the city's Rat Pack era. But the new resort changed how resorts operated, how they looked and how they made money.

“Gaming now is 35 percent of the revenues on the Strip and it’s the non-gaming, the restaurants, all that is what is 65 percent of the revenues on the Las Vegas Strip,” he said.

Before the Mirage, most resorts didn't emphasis fine dining. They just had a buffet, a coffee shop and a steakhouse. The Mirage had a variety of restaurants.

Stutz noted that before the Mirage casinos were dark, often smoke-filled rooms. 

“You walk into the Mirage and there is this natural light coming through this atrium,” he said, noting it was very different and "not Las Vegas."

It also broke the mold when it came to shows. Steve Wynn lured magicians Siegfried and Roy from the Frontier. He built them a state-of-the-art showroom and a tiger habitat on property. 

“It started a new trend at least for them and production shows along the Strip," Stutz said, "It was something that helped evolve entertainment in Vegas.’

Feldman agreed that the Mirage was influential in its physical design and its business plan.

“It was extremely influential in terms of the design of the business model. It was intended to generate a lot of non-gaming revenue,” he said.

Feldman doesn't think the intention was to flip the Las Vegas business model entirely on its head but the intention was to bring in more dollars from non-gaming resources.

“That I think is one of the biggest legacies of the Mirage was taking a more holistic view of the business model and not making all of these other categories loss leaders, which was pretty much what had happened with most places,” he said.

Feldman also pointed out that the way the Mirage was financed changed Las Vegas. 

“The Mirage was getting an enormous amount of capital through junk bonds,” he said. 

The bonds were sold by Michael Milken, who later went to prison for securities fraud. However, Feldman said the Mirage paid back all of its bonds unlike some of Milken's other clients.

But that funding source paved the way for other Wall Street investors to put their money behind Las Vegas hotels.

While the Mirage changed the landscape of the city, the legacy of its developer has been tainted by the allegations of sexual assault and harassment against him.

Steve Wynn has denied any wrongdoing, but he did step down from the company he created after the allegations broke in the Wall Street Journal.

“His legacy will be there as a developer same as Jay Sarno with Circus Circus and Caesars and obviously Kirk Kerkorian with the MGM properties that he helped develop but it is tainted at the end here with how he was driven out of the industry on his own doing – allegedly – with the allegations against him,” Stutz said.

Feldman, who worked for Wynn for several years, said Wynn's legacy is indeed tainted but society needs to take a more realistic view of people. He noted that people are not saints and Wynn certainly had some big faults.

“At the same time, he was creative. He did help turn this industry in a different direction. And I think that’s a fair part of his legacy that we should recognize but I don’t think the man deserves to be lionized,” he said.  


Dec 27, 2018

The Big Gamble


Alan Feldman, distinguished fellow in Responsible Gaming at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute; Howard Stutz, executive editor, CDC Gaming Reports

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