A half-year mystery for 4,000 families in southern Nevada was at last solved when casino mogul Steve Wynn made it known that he'd made the anonymous donation of $2 million to the United Way of Southern Nevada.
The United Way distributed $1 million worth of $500 bank gift cards to the first round of 2,000 families before Christmas 2011, the Associated Press reported, dubbing the donor a "Secret Santa."
An additional 2,000 families received gift cards last Saturday in Las Vegas, making the $2 million donation to the local United Way its biggest yet.
Cass Palmer, president and CEO of United Way of Southern Nevada, said the latest gift-card distribution program had been planned two months ago.
"We wanted it to hit in the middle of summer to give relief to families from the summer doldrums," he said. "We know times are troubling here in Las Vegas, but we wanted to say, 'We're just thinking of you'."
The families who received the gifts might not have known who they came from, but that didn't make them any less appreciated. Many can use the money.
The unemployment rate for the Las Vegas-Paradise area was 11.6 percent in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the second-highest among the 49 metropolitan areas with a 2000 census population of 1 million or more. The metro area of Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., had the highest, at 11.7 percent.
Palmer said Wynn anonymously donated $1 million last year then confessed to Norm Clarke, a columnist with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that he was the benefactor.
"Last year I gave away 125 percent of my salary," Wynn told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "I gave away $20 million. You know that Secret Santa Claus program for 1,000 people? Well, that's us. And I don't want to say this, but I did it again in April. Another million bucks. The United Way gives me the name of the families in the toughest shape."
About 40 of the local United Way's partner agencies vetted thousands of families who were at the poverty level or below, which in Nevada would mean a family of four with a household income of $16,000 or less.
"The immediate result is that we infused $1 million into the local economy. The utilization of $500 was beyond belief," he said.
Palmer said the organization has received hundreds of thank-you notes from families who used the money for surgeries, to pay bills, buy presents for children, and day care."
"It's really hitting the point for families here in Las Vegas now," Palmer said.
"That was really nice of him," Shinoa Owens told the Associated Press. "I don't care how much he spent elsewhere. I am glad he shared some of it with me. Even if it was just $25. I am not a greedy grubber."
Forbes estimated Wynn's net worth at $2.5 billion as of March 2012. Wynn, 70, is the chief executive officer and chairman of Wynn Resorts, which has developed such luxury Las Vegas hotels as the Bellagio and the Mirage.
Wynn is the 164th richest person in the United States, according to Forbes.
Last month, Wynn Resorts reported revenue of $1.31 billion for the first quarter of 2012, up from $1.26 billion in the first quarter of 2011, boosted by its property in Macau.
Wynn married British girlfriend Andrea Hissom more than a year ago in Las Vegas, and the two bought the penthouse of the Ritz-Carlton in New York City last month for a reported $70 million.
Wynn's public divorce from ex-wife Elaine Wynn in 2009 led to an expensive settlement, which included the transfer of $741 milion worth of company stock to her.
Last week, Elaine Wynn, who sits on the company's board, sued so she could sell her shares, saying she wanted to support charities.
Wynn has long supported charities himself, including a program called Communities in Schools, based in Virginia, which provides community services to the public school system.
Wynn's isn't the only casino to give something back. Since 2010, Caesars Foundation has donated more than $17 million to organizations across the U.S., including $1 million to Las Vegas' Opportunity Village, which benefits people with intellectual disabilities, according to the Associated Press.