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Clash of the Titans

Wynn says Flores is playing the victim to drive up the price of the land. But in his confrontation with rascally New York publisher Lyle Stuart, Wynn sees more malevolent forces at work.

For Stuart, issuing The Anarchist Cookbook and the racist Turner Diaries wasn’t dangerous enough. In 1995, he published Running Scared, a compilation of every rumor and allegation ever hurled at Wynn. Running Scared was written by Las Vegas newspaperman John L. Smith, and the book is built on a tangle of accusations that Wynn had mob ties. Stuart, however, advertised the book as explaining “why a confidential Scotland Yard report calls Wynn a front man for the Genovese crime family.”

Overstating Scotland Yard’s conclusions could cost Stuart his company. Six months ago, Stuart lost a defamation suit filed by Wynn; Stuart says the $3 million judgment awarded to Wynn will bankrupt him. He’s now appealing the decision.

Wynn boils at the mention of Stuart and Smith, whom he’s suing in a separate libel action. “They knew the Scotland Yard report was false. It’s the single most vicious and aggressive thing done to me,” Wynn says. “Yup, I want to put Lyle Stuart out of business. Every law-enforcement agency has always vouched for me, that any suggestion of me and organized crime is preposterous. I know one thing: If anybody says any different, they’re a fucking defendant.”

Several months ago, as the 75-year-old Stuart was considering his next move, First Amendment lawyer Victor Kovner called Stuart to let him know an anonymous benefactor wanted to bankroll his appeal. Stuart may be a rogue, but he’s no dummy. “Let me guess,” Stuart said to Kovner. “Donald Trump?”

“Yesss,” sighed Kovner.

Trump eventually wriggled out of the offer, telling Stuart it wasn’t wise for him to show malice toward Wynn.

Over the years, Wynn has labeled Trump a “cartoon,” a “perverse exaggeration,” and a “second-string adolescent.” But now he says he’s determined to stay out of the gutter. “No sane or rational guy would respond to Trump,” Wynn says coolly. “His statements to people like you, whether they concern us and our projects or our motivations or his own reality or his own future or his own present, you have seen over the years have no relation to truth or fact. And if you need me to remind you of that, then we’re both in trouble. He’s a fool.”

Still, even unworthy adversaries can be fun to humiliate. A pair of private detectives, one a former FBI agent, have been digging around in Trump’s personal and business life, dredging up material for Wynn’s legal team to use in the federal lawsuit. The prospect of his lawsuit surviving preliminary motions-to-dismiss has Wynn salivating. “You get past that, and Trump’s in for a baaad time. Then we get full-scale discovery, and we will share that publicly with everybody -- and it will be very embarrassing and damaging to Trump. Then we have a real good time for several months.”

Wynn dismisses all talk of his being over budget on Bellagio and Biloxi. And there will be no delay in the marina: “We’re irrevocably committed to this project.” What of the imperiled water supply? Wynn guarantees there’s no risk.”We’ve had extensive testing for several hundred thousand dollars,” he says. “We’ve drilled about every twenty feet.”

Even so, two years after Governor Whitman announced the signed marina agreement, Wynn’s negotiators are still pushing for a better deal. When frustrated by state officials, Wynn’s envoys have gone to local Atlantic City politicians for cheaper terms.

“There are so many goddamn back doors out of the agreement that Wynn created,” says a member of New Jersey’s team. “He truly is a master; I have the utmost respect for him on a business level. But working with him is hell. When you put all these pieces on the wall and look at it, you say, I’m dealing with the devil himself here. Steve Wynn controls every angle.”

Marla was in exile. After an argument with Trump, the not-yet-second-wife had split for California. Along the way, Maples took a side trip to Las Vegas. Arriving at Wynn’s Mirage hotel, she was upgraded to a suite, with all her expenses on the house.

An innocent courtesy for the girlfriend of a gambling-industry colleague? So says Wynn. But if he intended to irritate Trump, he succeeded, because the two Las Vegas newspapers soon received a Trump press release explaining that Donald was in and out of Vegas for “undisclosed purposes” and that he was being accompanied by Marla Maples. “It was a total bullshit ploy so people wouldn’t talk about Wynn screwing Marla,” says Chuck Jones, the P.R. man turned Trump antagonist who says he wrote the press release at Trump’s behest. “Trump never was anywhere near Las Vegas.”

The feud, however, is rooted in real estate, not romance, and it was in Atlantic City, at the lonely edge of the marina district, that the Trump-Wynn co-dependency began. In 1985, the Hilton Corporation had nearly finished construction of a mammoth hotel and casino when it was stalled by licensing problems. Wynn and Trump both made offers to take the place off Hilton’s hands. For $320 million, Trump won -- or so it seemed at the time.

Wynn continued to run his Boardwalk Golden Nugget. He’d speed high-rollers from Manhattan to Atlantic City by helicopter for Sinatra and Diana Ross concerts. But Wynn was also enduring ugly headlines: New Jersey’s annual casino relicensing hearings aired lurid rumors of cocaine use by Wynn. He vehemently denied them, and they’ve never been substantiated.

In 1986, a vice-president of the Golden Nugget, Mel Harris, was forced to quit when investigators learned of Harris’s visits to Genovese-family crime boss “Fat Tony” Salerno. But no wiseguys have ever been connected to Wynn, and he’s always been approved for gambling licenses. “I’ve never had one dissenting vote. They’ve investigated every deposit I’ve ever made in my checking account, every check I’ve ever written since I was 20 years old. How many people can say that?”

This treatment left Wynn bitter, and in the mood to sell. New Jersey, at the time, limited casino owners to three properties. Trump, who already owned two, was buying stock in Bally, which owned another Boardwalk casino. Bally, fearing a hostile takeover, offered Wynn a panic-inflated price of $440 million for the Nugget -- thereby fending off Trump, since he couldn’t buy the newly combined Bally’s-Golden Nugget without exceeding the state limit. Bally then paid Trump $20 million to go away.

Wynn took his huge profit from the Golden Nugget sale and exited Atlantic City, calling it “the slum by the sea.” He plowed the unexpected cash into Las Vegas expansion. The $630 million Mirage opened in November 1989.

Trump couldn’t let Wynn go without a few parting shots. In his book The Art of the Deal, Trump claims that Barron Hilton took less money from Trump because Wynn was “anathema” to Hilton. Trump ridicules Wynn as “very slick and smooth . . . a very strange guy . . . . He’s got a great act. He’s a smooth talker, he’s perfectly manicured, and he’s invariably dressed to kill in $2,000 suits and $200 silk shirts. The problem with Wynn is that he tries too hard to look perfect and a lot of people are put off by him.”