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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Why some folks just don't trust Steve Wynn
Does Wynn want the lush property so he can capture its water rights?
That question and others may not be answered in the near future
based on Wynn's reputation of being less than forthright with
his long-time Las Vegas neighbors and loyal supporters.

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
July 12, 2004

     Associated Press photo

"Like a Good Neighbor…Steve Wynn is There…"

LAS VEGAS - After destroying the historic Desert Inn Country Club Estates and displacing hundreds of pioneer Las Vegans to make way for another hotel, Steve Wynn is now eyeing another well established golf course community, the Las Vegas Country Club.

Speculation runs rampant as to why? The spectacular golf course is located away from the Las Vegas Strip causing concern that its purchase is solely to capture underground water rights. Las Vegas is draught stricken in case you haven't heard, and Wynn just loves water wasting artificial lakes and fountains gracing his casinos.

Our city wildly celebrates monuments from across the sea while it ignores its desert locale and rich human history. The D.I. Estates, and Las Vegas Country Club are part of our desert city's rapidly imploding history -- not like newer structures such as the Mirage, Paris, and Bellagio hotels that celebrate places far away from the high desert. Its' now almost impossible to tell that Las Vegas is located in a desert except during July, August and September when the heat overpowers the wonders of even the most mega of faraway themed mega-resorts.

Homeowners on the Las Vegas Country Club want to know what's happening. Some say that well dressed real estate types are approaching them to ask if they're interested in selling their million dollar homes. Some owners fear the Las Vegas Country Club is about to go the way of the Desert Inn Estates, now the site of the Wynn Las Vegas resort. The question is whether the Las Vegas Country Club is a good site for another mega resort? Or is it strictly about water?

Those questions and others may not be answered in the near future based on Wynn's reputation for being less than forthright with his Las Vegas neighbors.

It started in 1993 when 70 senior citizens were forced out of their broken down trailers at the World Wide Mobile Home Park to make way for a Mirage Hotel employee parking lot. Many of the park residents were too old or sick to move, and most did not have the funds to find another home. The saddest part was that a community had formed. The elderly World Wide residents were a coalescent support group for each other.

Wynn began his effort by reportedly offering World Wide residents about $4,000 each to move out early. If they did not go immediately, he reportedly began reducing the offer each month until they did. Many left, but many more stayed because they could not afford to go, were too sick, or did not want to leave their extended family. As the months wore on, Wynn reportedly began cutting off their life support systems one by one.

According to residents, the first service to be cut off was the pay phones; then the gardener and security; and finally the water and power. A few more senior citizens moved, but most held their ground in what had been their humble homes for the past thirty years. Park residents appointed one of their younger neighbors as a spokeswoman. She went to the local press with the revolting story, but few media outlets responded. Those that did downplayed the story, possibly not wanting to offend Wynn.

Out of desperation, the spokeswoman came to me. I helped her organize a demonstration on the once-public sidewalk in front of the Mirage. Wynn’s only response to the demonstration was to have his attorneys prepare a bill draft to allow the privatization of Strip sidewalks -- effectively prohibiting such demonstrations in the future. The Nevada Legislature obediently passed the bill during their next session. That unconstitutional law is in force today.

Defeated, the residents went back to their humble trailers. One 98 year old resident, a World War I veteran who spent the day in the heat protesting in front of the Mirage, passed away several days later.

The land was soon cleared and paved over.

Then, in 2000, long-time Desert Inn Estates residents refused to move from their beautiful homes to make way for Wynn's latest resort. The homeowners claimed that Steve Wynn cut off access to their neighborhood by dedicating part of Country Club Lane to Clark County for the widening of Sands Avenue. The homeowners said the private road wasn't Wynn's to give to the County, and his giving it away blocked the only access to their homes - a maneuver they believed was by design to make their lives miserable and cause them to sell at Wynn's price.

Wynn likes to pay residential prices for land that is about to be upgraded to H-1 Tourist Commercial, the most valuable land use in the Vegas Valley. The Desert Inn Estates homeowners believed there was collusion between Wynn and Clark County officials to make this possible. Wynn is historically one of the biggest political campaign contributors in Nevada. (He even contributed $7,500 to the author's 1991 campaign for Mayor of Las Vegas.)

Wynn claimed that the Desert Inn purchase made it possible for him to do away with all the covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&R's) of the D.I. Homeowner's Association. All this occurred under the watchful eye of Clark County officials who obediently turned their backs on resident's complaints, along with a new Homeowner's Association board of directors chosen by Wynn.

The first homes to be purchased were allowed to deteriorate. Their pools turned green and became a breeding ground for misquotes. County Health Departments officials did not respond to complaints. Then a cement batch plant was erected near the homes owned by those who did not wish to sell. Noise and dust permeated the air. Homeowners hired an attorney and went to court.

Wynn countered by accusing the residents of trying to shake him down for more money for their properties. He paid cooperating homeowners ten percent above appraisal. He also told a TV news audience that the main issue is "leverage." In the meantime, comparable residential properties were appreciating yearly, but the threat of a Wynn buyout did little to help property values in his targeted area.

After tiring of their protests, Wynn filed a SLAPP suit against remaining Desert Inn Estates homeowners for speaking out against his buyout offer. "Anything that clouds our ability to develop our project has the ability to jeopardize financing," Wynn's attorney Marc Rubinstein said. "That's what the (lawsuit) is all about."

I believe that Steve Wynn has already demonstrated that he has no respect for our town's long-time citizens as shown by these two examples. Now, it looks like his sights are set on the long-time residents of the beautiful Las Vegas Country Club.

Las Vegas Review-Journal Photo by Jeff Scheid

Below are excerpts from two articles that may help give insight into the political workings of Steve Wynn, and the reason he seems to always get his way, at least in Las Vegas:

A Gambling Impresario Leaves Little to Chance 
The New York Times 
Sunday, December 6, 1998 
"Steve Wynn's control over politicians is all-encompassing," said Steve Miller, a former Las Vegas City Council member who has frequently been at odds with Wynn. "It's overwhelming. Either you work for him or he tries to get you out of office." Considered by many Nevadans to be the most powerful man in the state, Wynn gets roadways rerouted, public transportation projects scuttled and public land deeded over to his company. 
Tuesday, March 07, 2000 
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal 
By Trevor Hayes 
Observers: Wynn lofty visionary 
Former Las Vegas Councilman Steve Miller also hopes Wynn will opt out of politics. "The influence peddling he has displayed in the state of Nevada ... has caused him to fall from favor not only of his fellow Nevadans but observers outside," Steve Miller said. Wynn should be remembered "as a blowhard and a manipulator and a corrupter of politicians," said the former councilman, once the target of a Wynn lawsuit. 

After Wynn's first offers were received, the Las Vegas County Club Board of Directors immediately went on the defensive and wrote a letter to members and homeowners.

"Although we intend to approach this matter with open minds, we must advise you that the last appraisal of the real estate owned by our club... was dramatically higher than the Wynn Resorts' proposal."

Also, no plans were mentioned for the future of the property after the first two years of Wynn ownership, the letter stated.

Wynn Resorts officials say that its their intention to buy the course to accommodate an expected overflow of guests from the nearby Wynn Las Vegas mega resort on the Las Vegas Strip, which also will have its own golf course.

The letter from the Country Club Board of Directors went on: "Until such time as your board has an opportunity to analyze the offer and make a recommendation, you are advised not to sign and return the irrevocable proxy" contained in Wynn's solicitation. "If you sign and return this document, you are giving away your right to evaluate and vote on the Wynn Resorts' proposal and you will not have any opportunity to change your mind at a later date."

Many believe that Wynn's current offer is very low considering the future development potential of the course as well as its valuable underground water rights that could be transferred to his nearby Wynn mega resort to supply the needs of extravagant water features. If this were to happen, the lush Las Vegas Country Club and its surrounding estates would have to tap into the dwindling public water supply, and probably be forced to convert to desert landscaping consisting of gravel, rocks and cactus.

Wynn is building a tropical-themed $2.4 billion, 2,700-room hotel-casino development on the Strip side of the Desert Inn site. He recently announced plans to build a second tower with about 1,300 rooms on the north side of the current project for an estimated $500 million, hence his need of additional water resources.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and casino industry expert Bill Thompson said the buyout will be positive as long as Wynn maintains the country club as a golf course. However, Hal Rothman, chairman of the history department at UNLV, told Rod Smith of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that its likely Wynn is more interested in the golf course for the water rights.

"Owning another golf course gives him control over its water features. Water features are important to Wynn and they have been a key for every resort he has built," Rothman said, "That's what he did at the Dunes (which he destroyed along with its golf course to build the Bellagio). These older courses have so much in water rights attached to them, they free developers from water restrictions." "Given the drought, you may see other golf courses becoming targets of developers."

Rothman also lamented about the flight of well-to-do Las Vegans from the old city where the Country Club is located, to the new developments in Summerlin and Henderson. Las Vegas has paid scant attention to redeveloping its inner city which inspires such migration, and inspires the exploitation of historical resources such as the D.I. Estates and now the LV Country Club.

The site of the Las Vegas Country Club was first developed in 1920 as Las Vegas' first airport. The airfield was later moved to the present location of McCarran International Airport on Paradise Road.

The property was bought out of bankruptcy in the early 1960s and developed into the first true country club in Las Vegas which opened in 1967.

In late 1970, it was sold to four partners -- Moe Dalitz, Harry Lahr, Nate Adelson and Irwin Molasky -- who renamed it the Las Vegas Country Club and took it private in July 1971.

And so it goes. In a town that was once built on trust, the icon of local developers has turned another once-peaceful oasis into a war zone. And, based on his recent history, the wishes of the community that made him the success he is may soon crumble to his whims once again.

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