Obama Picks Billionaire Casino Mogul's Ex-Wife for Kennedy Center Board

Harry Reid picked Elaine Wynn for a different federal board five months ago.

July 22, 2010, 5:20 PM

July 22, 2010 — -- President Obama has named Elaine Wynn, the on-again, off-again wife of the Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn, to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Elaine will follow her billionaire husband onto the board – President George W. Bush appointed him to one of the coveted trustee slots in 2006. He stepped down earlier this year without completing his full six-year term.

While Steve Wynn made his fortune founding a succession of Las Vegas casinos and hotels, Elaine took on increasingly significant roles in the Wynn empire. She currently serves on the corporate board of directors, even though the couple recently went through their second divorce – a relatively peaceful but public spectacle that ended with a massive settlement involving his transfer to her of $741 million worth of his stock in Wynn Resorts Ltd.

Much like her ex-husband, the unofficial "queen of Las Vegas" is also a prolific political donor. The Kennedy Center board is a plum presidential appointment that, much like ambassadorships, is frequently offered to top contributors. This particular appointment comes as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat and important ally of the president's, faces a tough reelection fight in Nevada.

"Senator Reid is very supportive of the President's decision to name Elaine to the Kennedy Center Board," said a Reid spokesman. "Elaine is a generous patron of the arts in Nevada and she will be a wonderful addition to the Board."

Elaine Wynn donated more than $137,000 to various candidates since 2007, including maximum donations to both Obama and Reid, as well as more than $18,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to records kept by the Center for Responsive Politics. She has also given hefty sums to Republicans, including to Obama rival Sen. John McCain and $28,500 each to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

According to a biography released by the White House, Reid appointed her to the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board in February 2010.

She is the founding chairperson of Communities in Schools of Nevada and was appointed to chair the National Board of Communities in Schools. Elaine Wynn was also named the Nevada Governor's Philanthropist of the Year in 2005 and 2007, the White House bio said.

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