Image source: Wynn Resorts.

No one has done more to shape the Las Vegas Strip than Stephen A. Wynn. He has built such icons as the Mirage, Bellagio, and Wynn Resorts' (NASDAQ:WYNN) Wynn Las Vegas, currently the most profitable resort on The Strip. His success has built a fortune worth an estimated $2.8 billion, according to Forbes.

But the journey to fame and fortune wasn't all glitz and glamour. Wynn has had his ups and downs over the years and his path shows what long-term thinking can lead to for investors.

The days before the megaresort
Stephen A. Wynn's early career was a fast rise into the gaming industry. In 1963, after his father's death, he took over the family's bingo parlor in Maryland, parlaying the success into a stake in the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where he moved in 1967. Soon, he would use his deal making skills to buy a controlling stake in the Golden Nugget, which he turned into a destination resort from a simple gambling hall, bringing in Frank Sinatra as a headliner.

By the mid-1980s, Wynn had built a profitable company with a successful resort in Downtown Las Vegas and another resort in the new market of Atlantic City and had a $100 million net worth to go along with it. But The Strip would be where he made his biggest bets and what would make him a legend in gaming. 

Inventing the megaresort
Wynn could have coasted to retirement as a wealthy man in the 1980s, but he had much larger visions for the future of Las Vegas and with the help of junk bonk king Michael Milken he would build the $630 million Mirage, which opened in 1989. The resort was a massive 3,000 hotel room resort with a volcano out front, but it would need to generate $1 million per day in revenue just to stay afloat. It was a gamble many thought Wynn would lose. 

Obviously, Mirage ended up being a huge success and Wynn would follow with Treasure Island in 1993 for $450 million and the $1.6 billion Bellagio in 1998, still seen as one of the best resorts in the world. Suddenly, Wynn had three of the best resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, but he would soon be challenged by MGM Resorts' (NYSE:MGM) visions of creating a Strip behemoth.

The fall of Mirage Resorts and how Wynn Resorts began
When Wynn built the Bellagio, he also started to collect tens of millions of dollars in art that analysts and investors began to question how Wynn was spending his gaming cash flow. When the stock dropped because of a few quarters of weak earnings, MGM swooped in to buy the company out from under Wynn, who didn't have enough control to keep the buyout from happening. Wynn's take from the deal was about $500 million and like he did with Mirage he set his sights on building the next level of megaresort.

With the funds from the Mirage Resorts buyout he would buy the Desert Inn, where Wynn Las Vegas sits today, for $270 million just months before the MGM buyout closed. That land would become the Wynn Las Vegas we see today.

Wynn Palace will be Wynn Resorts' next big project. Image source: Wynn Resorts.

Building the next generation of megaresorts
The $2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas would open in 2005 with the $2.3 billion Encore addition coming three years later. With $515.6 million in EBITDA -- a proxy for cash flow from a casino -- the property generates more money than any other resort in Las Vegas.

But his biggest success is actually half a world away in Macau. In 2006, he opened Wynn Macau, followed by Encore at Wynn Macau in 2010 and the combined property generated an incredible $1.1 billion in EBITDA over the last 12 months. The next phase of growth is properties in Macau's Cotai region and a project in the Boston suburb of Everett.

The Macau project, called Wynn Palace, will be a $4 billion project that will likely become Wynn Resorts' most profitable property the moment it opens. Given the revenue in the Cotai region, it's possible Wynn Palace could generate $1.5 billion-$2 billion in EBITDA annually. 

Keeping your eyes on the long-term prize
There have certainly been ups and downs in Stephen A. Wynn's rise to billionaire status, but one theme has emerged that has defined his entire career. He strives to build the best properties he can. Whether it's the design of hotel rooms, nightclubs, golf courses, shops, or entertainment venues he builds the best and spares no expense to do so.

This can lead to ups and downs in quarterly results, which cost him Mirage Resorts, but long-term it's been a successful strategy in building value, both for the brand and shareholders. Stephen A. Wynn may be one of the most well known developers in history, but he's also someone I'd be willing to bet on as an investor given his long track record of success and his best investments may still be ahead of him.