Betting the House

With a gold mine to prtect, Wynn has led Vegas in a swing to the right–away from Clinton’s proposed gambing tax

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Steve Wynn: 54, Las Vegas, Nev. $54,000. Party: R

Steve Wynn was just another ambitious young casino executive, running the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, when he hooked up with junk-bond king Michael Milken in the late 1970s. The financial community had avoided Vegas for decades because of its mafia ties, but Milken drove his firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert, right into the middle of it. Wynn and Milken shared a strong belief in family values: It was Wynn’s Mirage Resorts (financing: Milken) that pioneered the casino-as-family-vacation theme.

Other events in Wynn’s life are reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Casino. First, one of his vice presidents was discovered meeting with organized crime leaders in New York. (This didn’t keep Wynn from returning to the East Coast with a failed bid to build a huge casino in Bridgeport, Conn.) In the interval, Wynn’s daughter was kidnapped. After Wynn paid the $1.45 million ransom, she was returned.

President Clinton has promoted a 4 percent federal gambling tax and floated the idea for a federal commission to study the effects of gambling on society. For these reasons, the gambling community–traditionally supportive of Democrats–has swung to the right. Wynn led the charge, raising $500,000 last summer at a Dole fundraiser. And he has an entire state rolling the dice behind him: A study by New Hampshire Citizen Action shows that Nevada residents have donated $398,615 to the Dole campaign–roughly eight times more than New Hampshire, a state with about the same population and site of the first presidential primary.

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