Atlantic City Archives: Steve Wynn’s Tumultuous Relationship With The NJ Casino Mecca

Posted on May 6, 2015

Atlantic City has a colorful history when it comes to gaming that dates back all the way to 1976, when New Jersey legalized casino gaming in the state. Resorts Casino opened in 1978.

One of the most colorful eras in the city’s gaming history occurred during a brief period of time in the 1980s, when the city found itself intertwined with one of the most dynamic characters in gaming history, Steve Wynn.

This is the story of Steve Wynn’s love/hate relationship with Atlantic City.

Steve Wynn’s start in Atlantic City

Having legalized casino gambling in 1976, the Atlantic City skyline was already being transformed into what would later become the East Coast alternative to Las Vegas when Steve Wynn began construction on the Golden Nugget AC in 1978.

Having already proven to have the Midas touch, thanks to his resurrection of the Golden Nugget property in Las Vegas, there were high hopes for the sister property in Atlantic City. The idea of the young gaming visionary pumping some life into the AC casino industry had the city buzzing.

The casino opened in 1980 and was an instant success. And even though it was one of the city’s smallest casino properties, by 1983 Golden Nugget was the top revenue producer in AC.

Steve Wynn had done it again.

However, despite his success with the Golden Nugget in AC, Steve Wynn saw too many red flags on the horizon. He eventually abandoned Atlantic City in 1987, selling the Golden Nugget to Bally Manufacturing and vowing never to return to Atlantic City.

Wynn famously called the local government “corrupt and stupid” at the time.

Always leave yourself an out

Despite his promise to never return, Wynn used some of the $440 million he received from Bally Manufacturing from the Golden Nugget sale to buy a parcel of undeveloped land in the Marina District of Atlantic City – an area of the city that would later transform gaming in AC.

After leaving Atlantic City and opening a string of successful casinos in Las Vegas – The Mirage, Treasure Island, and Bellagio – Wynn made one last attempt to leave his mark on Atlantic City via an effort to transform his parcel of land in the Marina District into a second Boardwalk.

Wynn’s vision was the Mirage Resort AC, a sprawling destination casino connected to the New Jersey Expressway. Unfortunately for Wynn, his Mirage AC project was squashed by local officials (perhaps remembering his comments from a decade prior), but another casino developer stepped in and managed to align all the stars, including the 2.5 mile access tunnel to the NJ Expressway, to create the Borgata.

When you think about the success of the Borgata, it’s important to remember that the vision for the property – the grand idea – came from the mind of Steve Wynn.

With his Atlantic City dreams once again dashed, Steve Wynn – for the second time – swore off the locale, and moved on to bigger and better things such as the Wynn and Encore in Las Vegas, along with his massive casino in Macau. But he would be back in Atlantic City, sniffing around the edges, some 15 years later.

Wynn explores NJ online gambling

Wynn still has a toe in the door of AC, having applied for an iGaming license back in 2013, but almost at the same time he changed his tune on online gambling and decided not to act, even though the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement had approved Wynn for a transactional waiver.

The company appeared to have a willing dance partner in place in Caesars Entertainment and 888 – since Wynn doesn’t own a property in AC, which happens to be a prerequisite for operating an online gaming site in New Jersey.

Wynn proved prophetic on AC

To this day Steve Wynn continues to broach the topic of Atlantic City’s failings, and how (in his estimation) the city squandered a golden opportunity by not thinking on a grander scale.

“You must take control of the central planning of this community if it’s to save itself. Right now you’re the monopoly on the East Coast; that will end someday,” Wynn told the Wall Street Journal in 2014.

“Las Vegas is surviving in spite of everything because the infrastructure here is so big. The menu for guests is so great. Atlantic City can’t just be a local crap game. It’s gotta be a destination city,” Wynn went on to say.

Wynn sounded the alarm bell of AC’s demise back in the 1980s and continued pointing out the frailty of the industry through the 1990s and 2000s, but because of his history in the city it was often seen as sour grapes.

That being said, Wynn seems to always come back to AC with a new vision. So stay tuned – it’s unlikely the final chapter of this book has been written.

Image Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

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Steve Ruddock

Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.

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