Most of us want to protect our money—make wise investments that offer modest returns, while safeguarding the principle. We save our gambling for Monopoly money or plunking loose change in the one-arm bandit. And we watch the serious risk-takers from afar, with a blend of head shaking and awe. 

Thankfully, not everyone is built this way. Many of the world’s most astounding achievements have been created by a handful of individuals that took huge gambles—betting the proverbial ranch and more. And one of these financial daredevils is Steve Wynn, the mastermind behind Las Vegas’ Mirage.

The Mirage introduced elegance and five-star service to Las Vegas.

The Gambler

$630 million dollars is a serious chunk of change—even today—but in 1989, it loomed even larger. This staggering amount was the cost of constructing the Mirage—Vegas’ first five-star megaresort—and $565 million of came from selling junk bonds (A.D. Hopkins, author of The First 100 Persons who Shaped Nevada). Yes, junk bonds do pay a high interest rate, but that is due to their extremely high level of risk. When one considers the fact that the Mirage would have to earn one million dollars each day to pay back the debt, this is a wager that would thrust most of us into a state of perpetual insomnia and hair pulling. But Steve Wynn believed in this project wholeheartedly and accepted the monumental risk. 

He Saw a Need

Prior to the introduction of the Mirage, Vegas was undergoing a huge economic slump. The strip was home to a number of mediocre hotels and casinos—all struggling to keep their patrons and their pocketbooks on site. Unless you were a gambler with a penchant for all-you-can-eat buffets, Sin City had little offer to you. Steve Wynn wanted to introduce an entirely new concept to this stagnant city—and welcome an entirely new spectrum of tourists. 

He Had a Plan

As a child, Wynn had visited Florida’s famous Fontainebleau and, immediately, fell under its spell. He wanted to bring that level of opulence and top-notch service to the desert town—and attract middle and upper class visitors. And so the Mirage was born. 

Entering the Mirage was like walking into a fantasy. Equipped with an indoor forest, an aquarium housing Bottlenose dolphins, and a volcano that erupts on the hour, this posh megaresort captivated its clientele. Throw in an opulence that was unprecedented in Las Vegas and the addition of the city’s hottest entertainment act—Siegfried and Roy—and Wynn had achieved a recipe for success. And the competition took notice. 

He Sparked a Boom

News of Wynn’s novel idea traveled fast, igniting a construction boom that would forever change the face of Sin City. Caesar’s Palace responded to the challenge by installing a number of high-class retail outlets in a center called “The Forum Shops,” which actually adjoined their facility to the Mirage.

This was followed by a number of stylish new megaresorts sprouting up along the strip, including the Excalibur, MGM Grand, The Luxor, and The Venetian. Yes, Steve Wynn’s Mirage had ushered in a new era in Las Vegas—one that would completely turn the city’s economy around. 

The Boom Spread

Thanks to the influx of massive hotels, Vegas enjoyed an employment boom—welcoming new people to the desert town to fill the thousands of brand new jobs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the municipality’s population doubled—creating a demand for new housing and businesses. The city’s economic outlook had improved so much that Vegas ranked second on the Milken Institute’s Best Performing Cities index. 

Steve Wynn’s Mirage played an enormous role in transforming a humdrum gambling town into the excellent tourist destination that it is today. And all because one man was willing to assume an incredible risk.