Wynn's father Michael Weinberg ran a string of bingo parlors in eastern United States. In 1946, he had changed his name to "Wynn" presumably as a marketing strategy and a move to trump anti-Jewish bias. Wynn was raised in Utica, New York, and graduated from The Manlius School, a private boys' school east of Syracuse, New York, in 1959. He studied cultural anthropology and English literature at the University of Pennsylvania where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. In 1963, his father died of complications from open heart surgery in Minneapolis shortly before Wynn graduated from Penn with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. He married Elaine Farrell Pascal the same year.
Wynn took over running the family's bingo operation in Maryland. He did well enough at it to accumulate the money to buy a small stake in the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where he and Elaine moved in 1967. Between 1968 and 1972 Wynn also owned a wine and liquor importing company.
Wynn managed to parlay his profits from a land deal in 1971 (the deal involved Howard Hughes and Caesars Palace) into a controlling interest in the landmark downtown casino, the Golden Nugget Las Vegas (he also owned The Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, New Jersey). Wynn renovated, revamped and expanded the Golden Nugget from a gambling hall to a resort hotel and casino with enormous success, in the process attracting a new upscale clientele to downtown Las Vegas.
Wynn had previously acquired interests in various existing casinos. His first major Strip casino, The Mirage, which opened in 1989, set a new standard for size and lavishness, with construction costs to match. The Mirage featured an indoor forest and an outdoor "volcano," and with high-quality room appointments and an emphasis on service, the Mirage was another great success. The Mirage was the first project in which he was involved in the design and construction of a casino. The $630 million cost to build The Mirage was financed largely with junk bonds issued by Michael Milken. The Mirage was considered a risky venture by the standards then prevailing in Las Vegas because of its high cost and emphasis on luxury. However, it proved to be enormously successful and made Wynn a major part of Las Vegas history.
Wynn's next project was Treasure Island Hotel and Casino. It opened in 1993 at a cost of $450 million. With its live pirate show and location next to the Mirage, Treasure Island was another success for Wynn.
Wynn expanded further on his concept of the luxury casino with Bellagio, a $1.6 billion resort, including an artificial lake, indoor conservatory, a museum-quality art gallery and branches of high-end boutiques and restaurants from Paris, France; San Francisco, California; and New York City, New York. The architect was the famous American Jon Jerde of The Jerde Partnerships. The Bellagio is credited with starting a new spree of luxurious developments in Las Vegas. Among these developments include The Venetian, Mandalay Bay, and Paris Las Vegas.
Mirage Resorts was sold to MGM Grand Inc. for $6.6 billion ($21 a share) in June 2000 to form MGM Mirage. With the money he made on that deal, and with his ability to secure ever-greater financing, Wynn built a new resort, his most expensive yet, the Wynn Las Vegas, which opened on the former site of the Desert Inn on April 28, 2005. Wynn Las Vegas is owned and operated by Wynn Resorts Limited, of which Wynn is chairman and chief executive officer. Wynn became a billionaire in 2004, when his net worth doubled to $1.3 billion.
Wynn successfully bid for one of three gaming concessions that were opened for tender in Macau, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, which has a long history of gaming and is the largest gaming market in the world, having surpassed Las Vegas in 2006. This property, known as Wynn Macau, opened on 5 September 2006.
In the summer of 2008, hiring began for Encore, the newest in Steve Wynn's collection of resorts (the tower of Encore is modeled after the Wynn Las Vegas tower, and in fact, they share the same "property" though they are separate hotels). Wynn is said to be hiring 3500 employees for this expansion. The Encore will be opening on December 23, 2008.
Many of the collection's pieces were on display at the Bellagio. The collection was on display at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno while the Wynn Las Vegas was being constructed and was installed in the resort shortly before it was opened. The Wynn Las Vegas gallery, which had charged an entrance fee, closed shortly after the start of 2006. The artwork from the former gallery is now scattered around the resort. Although the artwork is owned personally by Wynn, Wynn Resorts pays an annual lease of $1. As part of the lease agreement, insurance and security is the responsibility of the company.
The centerpiece of the collection is Le Rêve, the Picasso portrait that was the working name of the resort project. Wynn purchased the painting in 1997 for $48.4 million. In 2006 he reportedly was to sell it to Steven A. Cohen for $139 million, which would at that time have been the highest price paid for any piece of art. However, he put his elbow through the canvas while showing the painting to a group of reporter friends to which he had just revealed the alleged sale. This canceled the sale, and after a $90,000 repair, the painting was estimated to be worth $85 million. Wynn sued his insurance company over the $54 million difference with the virtual selling price, possibly exceeding his own buying price. The case was settled out of court in April 2007.