05/07/2004 12:00AM

Magic Man waves wand again


Casino mogul Steve Wynn has a nickname in the gaming business. He is known as the Magic Man. He gained that title by leading the transformation of Las Vegas to Las Vegas.

Although there are several movers and shakers who have contributed to the new landscape of Las Vegas, make no mistake about the guy who opened the floodgates.

Steve Wynn parlayed a small bingo business in downtown Las Vegas into an empire that even The Donald appreciates. When Wynn opened the doors at the Mirage in 1988, he started the new wave of megaresorts. In between building Treasure Island next to the Mirage at the corner of the Strip and Spring Mountain Road and buying the Dunes at what many considered a fire-sale price, Wynn revitalized the Golden Nugget downtown with the help of high-profile commercials by Frank Sinatra. Wynn then had the Dunes imploded and built the Bellagio in its place.

By that time, Wynn had grown tired of trying to balance the scrutiny of Wall Street investors against his vision. When the MGM corporation came knocking at the door, Wynn sold the empire and banked a cool half-billion while also making money for his investors.

This all came in the span of 12 years.

It wasn't long after the sale of Mirage Resorts Inc. that Wynn embarked on his newest project. He bought the Desert Inn at what many considered another bargain-basement price, and was back in the game.

Wynn drummed up $2.4 billion in financing, and after several revisions and a name change, his newest megaresort bears his signature as Wynn Las Vegas. The 50-story, 2,700-room property - still under construction - sits at the corner of the Strip and Spring Mountain Road, kitty-corner from Treasure Island.

Now, with Wynn Las Vegas less than a year from completion, Wynn promises to raise the bar, again. This week, Wynn announced an expansion of the resort - an expansion a year before the property opens.

The $198 million expansion plan includes an additional showroom and 18 additional suites along the former Desert Inn golf course. Wynn also has acquired more land along the course. Even before this latest move, Wynn had planned a second phase of construction for the project: A $500 million, 1,300-room tower and casino.

Although Wynn is also building a Macau casino property that is scheduled to open in June 2006, Wynn Resorts doesn't have any cash flow. That hasn't bothered investors, who are hoping projections of $738 million in revenue for the company next year and $1.2 billion by the end of 2006 come true.

Many industry observers believe that the Wynn Las Vegas project - the most expensive ever undertaken in Las Vegas - and its impact on the Las Vegas economy will buoy another megaresort building spree.

It looks like the Magic Man may have done it again.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.