Every day, thousands press their luck at properties codeveloped by Elaine Wynn, cofounder of the Bellagio, the Mirage and Wynn Las Vegas. But Wynn’s unwavering reign as the Queen Bee of Las Vegas has little to do with luck; since her 2010 break with her husband and business partner Steve Wynn (who in February stepped down from Wynn Resorts following allegations of decades of sexual misconduct), she has blazed on as an entrepreneur and education and arts advocate—never with a hair on her pristine blond cut-and-color out of place.
Since arriving in Sin City in 1967, Wynn has worked for education reform. “I was concerned because we had the highest dropout rate in the country, and could not understand how that was possible in a state that seemed to be flourishing [with] lots of resources and lots of glamour,” she says. In between her social work, which would earn her a position as chair of Communities and Schools of Nevada, Wynn also helped reshape the city’s image as a seedy Babylon to that of a cultural destination by stocking her hotels with world-class art.
At the Bellagio, Wynn commissioned Dale Chihuly’s career-defining glass sculpture Fiori di Como, which now hangs in the lobby. “We went over to Dale’s house where he had put a glass art installation at the bottom of his lap pool,” says Wynn. “And I said to him, ‘I want that in my ceiling in the Bellagio lobby.’ So that’s how we got that.”
As a member of the board at LACMA, Wynn now plays a critical role in bringing art to the masses. In 2016, she pledged $50 million to the museum’s forthcoming, $600 million dollar addition — the oblong-shaped David Geffen Studio designed by Swiss Pritzker Award–winning starchitect Peter Zumthor. “This is [Zumthor’s] first buildings in America,” she says. “He’s very, very rare and very elegant.” With homes in Idaho, Beverly Hills, New York and Miami, Wynn has plenty of space to house her own growing art collection. Last year, in her first major acquisition since her divorce, she bid $142.4 million on Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud. The gambit paid off; today, the triptych hangs in her Beverly Hills lobby—up the way from where the David Geffen Studio will be unveiled in 2023.
The acquisition represents what Wynn calls a “golden” chapter in her life—defined by independence and advocacy. “It was extraordinarily creative and fun to build companies and build communities,” she says. “And now, what’s most satisfying is giving back and focusing not on you, but on others.” Following yesterday’s settlement in the six-year legal tussle with her embattled ex-husband, it seems Wynn is continuing to hold onto what’s golden.
Main image: John Russo