In Steve Wynn's wildest dreams, a 50-foot volcano explodes in a hotel lobby, giant fountains dance to classical music and sharks and white tigers prowl a western American metropolis. While most people's dreams remain that way, anyone can see Wynn's imaginings live, on the Las Vegas strip.
"I came when it was a small town," Wynn told "Nightline." "And when I was a kid in 1952, when I came with my dad, guys wore cowboy boots and cowboy clothes. There was a wonderful romantic freedom to this place." .
To many, Wynn is the man who reinvented Las Vegas. He moved there with his wife in 1967, just as Vegas was becoming a well-known gambling hotbed.
Gone was the glamour of the "Rat Pack" days when movie stars rubbed shoulders with high rollers and people thought the mob ran the town.
"The actual bad guys that you read about — they never came to Las Vegas," said Wynn. "They were back in New Jersey, and Chicago, and New York. … It wasn't much money here. It was all exaggerated."
The times have changed. Wynn has an estimated net worth in excess of $3.9 billion.
For better or for worse, Wynn spent the last several decades transforming Vegas from a seedy strip in the desert to a place where you can eat in the finest restaurants, and shop in the most exclusive stores.
Wynn said the experience is not about the gambling.
"It's about the noncasino parts. People don't move for a slot machine. Hell, they're everywhere. … They're a commodity. They are all the same. Every slot machine or blackjack table in the world is like every other."
"What moves people is when they have time for recreation and leisure," Wynn said. "That they can go somewhere and have an experience that's richer, more exciting, maybe more beautiful, and more fun than they can get any other day, every other day of their life."
Wynn said he never resorted to unorthodox methods, like organized crime.
"I have been here since I was 25 years old. I heard the stories," Wynn said. "I even met some of the old-time guys but … this is one of the most benign square places on Earth."
"Benign" may not be the word most people use to describe Las Vegas, but it's hard to argue that Wynn doesn't know the town and its history.
In his first deal, Wynn bought a piece of property from billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. He sold the lot 11 months later, making about $1 million in the process. He bought the Golden Nugget a few years later at the age of 32 — making him the youngest casino owner in the country.
A series of hotels followed. In 1989, he created the Mirage — that's the one with the exploding volcano. Treasure Island followed with full-size pirate ships that periodically battle, and, of course, explode.
The Bellagio with the dancing fountains opened in 1998. Picassos replaced pirates. And, as Van Goghs appeared, the fun became upscale.
"Mirage, Bellagio and Treasure Island all came from the same mentality," said Wynn. "That the front of the hotel and its accoutrement are the theater of it all."
In a sense, Las Vegas was to become a playground for adults.
"It was Walt Disney, I think, that really sort of summarized and produced, as an example, his own little world, and in it, things were in the literary, romantic sense, better than they were in the real world."