The Mirage, Steve Wynn & I – the beginning of a 25-year love affair with the gaming industry By Jeffrey Compton November 25, 2014 at 5:31 pm November 1989 – Thanksgiving week. I was in Los Angeles dealing with family issues. My brother Bill had developed schizophrenia and walked out of his treatment center to who knows where. I was trying to figure out what to do about it – and getting generally frustrated. (He walked back into treatment nine months later and went on to become a renowned mental health care advocate before his death in 2007.) A friend of a friend contacted me. “I have a room reservation at the new Mirage Hotel in Wednesday through Sunday – and my guest cancelled. Would you like to come along – they say it’s going to be spectacular – including an outdoor volcano, a huge fish tank at the front desk, and a rainforest atrium.” “Why not? I am not really accomplishing anything here.” So Wednesday morning he picked me up. We drove six hours across the desert – and thus began a four-day weekend that changed my life forever. I was not new to gaming or to Las Vegas. Since 1982 I had organized and operated one of the largest charity casino nights in Ohio, at the historic Mather Mansion at Cleveland State University. I had gone to Las Vegas a couple of times to learn more about table games. Those first trips were no big deal, but the memories of this 1989 trip remain strongly in my mind. We arrived at the Mirage about 3:00 p.m. Wednesday. A few hours earlier Steve Wynn, together with Siegfried and Roy (and a small tiger cub), had cut the ribbon to open the property. By the time we arrived there were no noticeable crowds outside the hotel or at the front desk. In fact, the hotel was not sold out for the weekend (I met several guests that night who told me that they had been walked from the downtown Golden Nugget, which was over-sold.) For those of you who weren’t there or don’t remember – the Mirage was anything but a sure thing. It was the first new casino to be built on the Strip in 16 years. It cost a then-whopping $630 million (financed through high-interest junk bonds) and had 3,044 hotel rooms. (Earlier-built properties opened small and added on through the years). The Mirage rooms were, to put it bluntly, disappointing: clean and large, but with minimal decoration (rumor was that Wynn was running short of funds). Still, there was definitely a feeling of anticipation in the air – which quickly turned to charm. About 10 hours after the opening, Elmer Sherwin, a player who had borrowed money from his ex-wife, sitting right next to him, hit a $4.6 million Megabucks jackpot – the largest slot jackpot anywhere up to that time. The story was on every news channel and in newspapers all over the world. (Several people asked me about it when I got back to Cleveland.) That one slots pull created two big winners, Elmer Sherwin and Steve Wynn, as well as a Megabucks-hits-at-casino-openings myth that continued for years. Of course the casino floor was large, but what struck guests was how well-designed and coherent the overall layout was – another advantage of “let’s build it all at once.” Everybody on the floor, winner or loser, was having a good time. The buffet and restaurants were as expected (Wynn had set the bar very high at the Golden Nugget). The best part was listening to all the conversations of people who were truly amazed. By the weekend the word was out, “You just gotta see this place.” The hotel totally sold out (and probably stayed that way for a long time), plus all the I-never-go-to-the-Strip locals started coming down. On Saturday afternoon I was standing near the front entrance when I realized that the great man himself, Steve Wynn, was standing next to me. I turned and told him what a wonderful place he had created. He said “I got a call last night from Barbra Streisand, who felt bad over the slot jackpot – until I told her that the casino’s portion of the payout was about $2,500.” Noticing how many people were walking in with baby strollers he said “I love this business but I did not realize that I have created a theme park – can you believe this?” As he walked away to answer a page he asked me how my stay was going and to report any problem – no matter how small – to the front desk. It was only time I have talked with Steve Wynn. Sunday morning at I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and went to the high limit room ($25 minimum) to play blackjack. The three people sitting at the table all had the same impressions that I did: so-so rooms, decent restaurants, but an unmistakable air of magic to the property and all of us had a wonderful time. And I realized then that the casino gaming industry and Las Vegas was the place for me. I was then a long-time Cleveland resident and jointly running our family industrial manufacturing business with my father, but with patience and will I would find a way there. It would be five years before I moved to Las Vegas (and another year before I found my first niche in the industry), but after that wonderful Thanksgiving weekend in 1989, nothing was going to stop me.