Casino maestro Steve Wynn and his now-ex-wife, Elaine Wynn, officially ended their marriage late last year with a settlement that has been sealed at her request. Yet the question has been raised in the nation's gossip columns and in the parlors around Vegas: Was this split the costliest on record?
"I would say so," Wynn, 68, told AOL News in an interview last week. "I think it might be."
One reason may be because Wynn and his former spouse evenly split their 38 percent stake in Wynn Resorts Ltd. He is the chairman and she remains a director of the company and someone he has long credited with aspects of its success. Elaine Wynn received her 11,076,709 shares of stock in January, when it was worth $741 million. A recent stock run-up now puts the value of that stake at $955 million.
That angle of the settlement was made public in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last month, but Steve Wynn also indicated during the interview that his ex-wife got her pick of the couple's considerable and highly regarded Las Vegas art collection, as well as all the art in their Manhattan and Sun Valley, Idaho, residences. It is unclear whether Mrs. Wynn also took possession of that real estate, but Steve Wynn indicated he has a new Sun Valley home as well.
"Let's put it this way: Elaine is a very wealthy woman," said Wynn, who now lives with Andrea Hissom, a British divorcee and mother of two teens. "And no one deserves it more and no one will use the wealth more intelligently, more compassionately than she will. She has a very definite attitude towards money that it should go to charity and to her grandchildren."
Wynn's relationship with Hissom became public in January 2009. The Wynns filed for divorce two months later. A judge accepted a proposed settlement in November.
When you add the proceeds up, it is unclear whether Wynn is correct that his breakup sets a record. Murdoch, the Australian media mogul, paid out $1.7 billion to ex-wife Anna in 1998.
But that the casino mogul would even suggest it was stunning to Las Vegas Review-Journal gossip columnist Norm Clarke.
"I am startled," Clarke told AOL News. He said that Wynn settling for such a large amount without a court fight "is probably one of the classiest things about him. He's respecting Elaine and his family."
Steve Wynn's value has vacillated greatly in recent years as the economy has taken a particularly punishing toll on the gaming industry and the Las Vegas tourism market. His fortune was estimated at $2.3 billion in September 2009, when Forbes magazine ranked him the 141st wealthiest American. That was actually up dramatically from Forbes' estimate of $1.5 billion in March 2009, when it listed him as the world's 468th richest billionaire. In 2007, at the height of the market, Forbes said he was the 86th wealthiest American with $3.9 billion.
"Rupert Murdoch and Jack Welch were two of the big ones," Steve Wynn said with a sardonic chuckle. "It's absolutely the Esquire Magazine Dubious Distinction Award for whoever it is who has the largest divorce settlement. It's not exactly one of the great achievements of life."
Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, actually seems to be out of the running. The settlement for his 2002 divorce from second wife Jane is not public, but during their public dispute her attorney's highest estimate for his fortune was $800 million. Other famous megawealthy divorces, including those of supermarket mogul Ron Burkle, pop star Paul McCartney and financier George Soros, were settled for mere 10-figure sums, the result of pre- or post-nuptial contracts.
One difference in the Wynn case is that Elaine Wynn has long been a key figure in the couple's success.
She was a major voice in the interior design of their hotels as far back as 1989, when they opened the groundbreaking Mirage on the Strip. After opening the elegant Bellagio in 1998, their first company, Mirage Resorts, was bought by Kirk Kerkorian's MGM Grand Inc. in 2000. The Wynns then bought and imploded the failing, storied Desert Inn casino on the Strip and formed Wynn Resorts, the company that now operates the Wynn and Encore hotel-casinos in both Las Vegas and Macau, China.
"We're still partners in the business. I respect and value and really covet her opinion on issues," he said. "She has a real feel for the business that's terrific. The last thing in the world I would want to do is lose, totally, that connection. So I'm doing whatever I can to keep us related in some fashion or another, and I'm enjoying the time I'm spending with her immensely."
Observers in Vegas were not surprised by the civility of the dissolution.
"This was two people who sat down with two attorneys and dealt with the division of a pie that they baked together and met their own desires to be charitable," said Robin Leach, the longtime entertainment journalist who now primarily covers Las Vegas. "It's probably one of the most pleasant divorce cases I've ever heard of or seen."
The Wynns reside in villas at opposite ends of their attached Vegas resorts. According to SEC filings, Steve Wynn pays the company $503,831 a year in rent and Elaine pays $350,000 for her pad.
Steve Wynn said that his ex-wife has never met Hissom but that Hissom's children have socialized with their grandchildren. Despite the divorce, the exes are routinely spotted dining together.
Elaine Wynn has declined to address the divorce publicly except obliquely. In February 2009, as divorce rumors heated up, she told the Las Vegas Weekly that she was "doing great," said she planned to become even more active in her charity work. She also said that she intended "to remain active in the company and that won't change."
She is the national chairwoman of the dropout-prevention organization Communities In Schools. In January, she gave $1 million to a food bank in Las Vegas, and she is among the top donors to the $74 million Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. The new brain-disease hospital, designed by Frank Gehry, officially opened in Las Vegas this year.
This divorce is actually the Wynns' second. They met when they were 18 and wed in 1963. They had two daughters and divorced the first time in 1986. Yet they never actually moved out, remarrying in 1991. At that reception at New York's Waldorf-Astoria, the groom quipped: "We regret to inform you that the divorce did not work out."
Leach said he doubted that their marriage ever really resumed as normal and morphed into more of a business relationship than a romantic one.
"I come from the school that says when plates are broken, it doesn't matter how much glue you put on them, they're never proper again," Leach said.
Still, the Wynns retain a level of affection for each other that could be mystifying to those whose messy, bitter divorces did not involve billions of dollars.
"She's my buddy, she's my best friend," he said. "I love her."