Wynn buys Desert Inn resort

LAS VEGAS - Casino mogul Steve Wynn has purchased the Desert Inn hotel-casino, a month after he agreed to sell Mirage Resorts Inc. to rival MGM Grand Inc.

''Wynn confirmed this afternoon that he is the purchaser of the Desert Inn as a birthday gift for his wife, whose birthday is tomorrow,'' a spokesman for Wynn said Thursday.

The spokesman, who asked not to be named, said Wynn and his wife, Elaine, are the only shareholders of the famed Strip resort.

Wynn also acquired the Desert Inn golf course, behind the resort, and an adjacent 32-acre parcel of prime undeveloped land.

The spokesman declined to say how much Wynn paid Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide in the deal that is contingent upon the completion of the MGM's buyout of Mirage.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported earlier this week that Wynn was considering buying the Desert Inn for $275 million in an all-cash deal.

''He is not going to discuss the price,'' the spokesman said.

Mark Advent, a casino designer and developer, had made a separate offer for the resort on Monday. He would not disclose how much his bid was. Advent said Starwood did not respond to his offer.

And a group of Midwestern investors led by former Las Vegas City Councilman Matthew Callister reportedly offered Starwood $300 million for the Desert Inn.

Starwood officials could not be reached immediately for comment Thursday.

A telephone recording at Starwood's headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., said Thursday night the office was closed. A message left in the voice mail was not immediately returned by Dan Gibson, senior vice president for corporate affairs.

Alan Feldman, a spokesman for Mirage Resorts, said Thursday that the boards of directors for Mirage and MGM Grand gave approval for Wynn to buy the property.

Mirage Resorts' seven-member board had to give Wynn approval because he still has fiduciary obligations to Mirage until the MGM deal is completed later this year.

Wynn, who will make about $500 million before taxes from MGM Grand Inc.'s $4.4 billion buyout of Mirage Resorts, recently toured the upscale Desert Inn, which celebrated its 50th year Monday.

Rumors that Wynn was interested in the Desert Inn have been circulating since he agreed to sell Mirage Resorts to MGM Grand in March in a deal that also including MGM assuming $2 billion in Mirage debt. That acquisition is expected to be completed before the end of the year, pending approval of the Securities and Exchange Commission and various state gaming agencies.

Starwood purchased the Desert Inn in 1998 as part of its $14.6 billion purchase of ITT Corp.

A deal to sell the Desert Inn to Sun International Hotels for $275 million fell through in March when Sun decided to go private.

The posh Desert Inn has 715 rooms and a 30,000-square-foot casino. By comparison, Mirage Resorts' showcase Bellagio has 3,000 rooms and about 120,000 square feet of casino space.

The Desert Inn has enjoyed a host of colorful owners since its opening, including California card-room operator Wilbur Clark, mob-linked Ohio businessman Moe Dalitz and reclusive billionaires Howard Hughes and Kirk Kerkorian.

Wynn had kept quiet about his plans since the buyout announcement, but his 23 million shares of Mirage stock, 12 percent of the company, provides options.

As Las Vegas' casino king, Wynn's Mirage Resorts owns the Golden Nugget downtown, the Golden Nugget in Laughlin, Nev., and The Mirage, Treasure Island and the Bellagio on the Strip. Mirage also has a half interest in the Monte Carlo hotel-casino and owns the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss.

Mirage Resorts Inc. stock peaked at $26.38 in May 1999. But after the pricey Beau Rivage casino failed to meet expectations, the stock dipped to $10.88 on Feb. 22.


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