Steve Wynn on family, his driving ambition, and being "friends" Clinton and Trump

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talk asia steve wynn spc c_00001916

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Story highlights

  • Billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn says he isn't yet supporting Clinton or Trump for US president
  • "I'm one of those Americans -- frustrated, anxious and unsatisfied," he tells CNN's Talk Asia

(CNN)Steve Wynn is in the uncomfortable position of considering as friends both the Clintons and Donald Trump.

So it's understandable that the casino king won't reveal which candidate he's backing for US president.
    Instead, the 74-year-old expresses a diplomatic blanket disappointment with the tone and content of America's current political debate.
    "I'm one of those Americans -- frustrated, anxious and unsatisfied," he tells Talk Asia, from his luxurious new $4.2 billion Macau resort, Wynn Palace, his most expensive venture yet.
    "And I haven't decided who to vote for because I'm waiting for someone to have a responsible conversation and address the issues that affect the American people."
    "Our process seems to promote this kind of foolishness, this populist rhetoric, this claptrap of hot air."

    Betting on the debate

    Describing Trump as a "character" and Hillary Clinton as a "highly motivated, very intelligent woman," Wynn says he hasn't given a "dime to either one," and won't make his voting decision until after the debates.
    Wynn calls this the most extraordinary US presidential campaign he's ever witnessed.
    "What's disappointing at this time? Just the rhetoric around it, and just in the way how much of a circus it has become," he says.
    "Any one of these people (Clinton or Trump) has the capacity of doing something intelligent and positive, but for some reason the campaign doesn't allow that to emerge and I am hoping that when we get to the debates we might really get substantive exchange."
    "This guy is a character. Most of my buddies are characters," Steve Wynn (R) says of Donald Trump (L), seen here with Heidi Klum.

    Applied ambition

    While confounded by American politics, Wynn is far clearer about the formula that's guided his own success.
    The Connecticut-born businessman credits ambition and passion for enabling him to transform a small, home-grown company into Wynn Resorts, the almost $10 billion international gambling empire he runs today.
    "Most people I know that are successful have a few things in common that are undeniable. Driving ambition, and they have applied that to something they're good at, that they love doing ... and they are fun to be around, especially when they're talking about their passion," he tells Kapur.
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    Wynn's passion for the casino industry is clear. He speaks of his close involvement in the conception and design of his resorts -- a process he manages in conjunction with his architect, DeRuyter Butler, and his interior designer, Roger Thomas -- and his desire to make luxury available to everyone through the publicly accessible parts of his resorts.
    And his ambition shines through when he talks about his involvement in opening up the once-small enclave of Macau to international casino operators, his ongoing support of the community there, and the "abnormal" return he has received on his investment there.
    Yet it's clear he also abides by a simple philosophy to not sweat the small stuff.
    "In business or in life, focus on the things over which you do have some control. And don't fret about all the other problems. Most of the time they don't come true anyway!" he says.

    Life's pauses

    Wynn was not born with wealth.
    His father, Michael Weinberg, was a Jew who was raised by a nice but "dirt poor" foster family.
    Weinberg dropped out of high school, aged 16, and turned his artistic talents to painting signs for shops. But quickly he realized that the best way to make money during the depression era was as a sign-painter for Coca Cola.
    He mastered hand-painting the soda company's iconic French-style "C," and -- after learning the firm wouldn't employ Jews -- changed his name from Weinberg to Wynn.
    "He had invented a pseudonym to avoid anti-Semitism, he got the job, and at 18 years old, he had a car and was, he was a Yankee Doodle guy," says Wynn.
    Michael Wynn went on to run a string of bingo parlors across the US, but when he died in 1963 the company was $350,000 in debt.
    It took Wynn junior to turn things around.
    "Fast forward to 1997 and Fortune Magazine has a cover every year with the 10 most admired companies in America, and that year we were number two behind Coca Cola," Wynn says.
    In 2015, on the 10th anniversary of the Wynn Las Vegas -- a luxury resort on the Las Vegas Strip, in Nevada -- Coca Cola made several hundred thousand cases of a Wynn commemorative issue, one of which was delivered to Steve Wynn's office.
    "I don't think there was a more poignant moment when the whole rigamoral came back into focus," Wynn says of seeing his signature on the back of the Wynn Las Vegas ten year anniversary Coca Cola bottle.
    Wynn says he turned the bottle around to look at the back and discovered his signature "Wynn" on the bottle.
    "Forget the hotels and the jets and the wealth and the good luck and the children, and the grandchildren, what would happen if my father could see a Coke bottle with the name he invented on it?" he says.
    "That's a moment in life where you just pause, right?"
    A rare pause, perhaps, for a businessman who clearly has plenty of passion and drive left to give.