You have stumbled upon one of my favorite Las Vegas tales, one that tells so much about what makes Las Vegas. At first glance it seems a common David versus Goliath story. But it’s more: David versus a few Goliaths, including one who began as a David, and then, after achieving Goliath status, saw the tables turned by a modern-day reflection of himself, 20 years prior.
Steve Wynn came to Las Vegas in 1967. He built his Las Vegas legacy through hard work and a series of smart leveraging of smallish deals with the help of banking legend E. Parry Thomas, who died on August 26. Wynn began by buying a fractional casino ownership at the Frontier. That led to brokering a transformational deal for a sliver of Strip land owned by Howard Hughes next to Caesars Palace. Wynn flipped it to Caesars less than a year later for more than twice the initial $1.1 million investment. That led to ownership of Downtown’s Golden Nugget, and the rest …
Fast-forward to the late 1980s, when Wynn was developing the game-changing Mirage, and soon after, its neighbor Treasure Island. At the time, properties to the west along Industrial Road (much like Paradise Road to the east) were home to convenient apartment complexes housing casino workers. One of them was Villa de Flores. In shades of Wynn’s deal with Hughes, with the development of The Mirage, the 1-acre, 36-unit complex became a very valuable dot of land, at least to its owner, Mike Flores. Wynn balked at the $6 million price tag for what was technically off-Strip property, characterizing it as “extortion.” Perhaps visualizing his own Wynn-like aspirations, Flores wouldn’t budge. So unlike Wynn’s legendary Strip-front Hughes deal (as well as deals with the other Industrial Road owners), no deal was struck with Flores.
The result? Check Google Maps. Treasure Island, and a Mirage parking garage, were built around Villa de Flores, making it an island of its own. Subsequent internal legal battles involving fractional Villa de Flores owners resulted in Flores buying the property outright for $3.5 million in 1997; one fractional owner was the Imperial Palace’s Ralph Englestad, who received $700,000 on his $1 million investment—not quite the return that Wynn got from Caesars Palace. As for MGM Resorts International, the new Goliath owners of the Mirage, or the T.I.’s Phil Ruffin? They seem content to keep Villa de Flores where it is. Until the price is right, of course.
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