A never-forgotten friend gets his own permanent place at Wynn Las Vegas, and Steve Wynn tells the story of his mentor, Charlie Meyerson.
Beyond the casino floors, rooms like this parlor in Encore’s private gaming suites cater to Wynn’s dedicated players.
A LOVING AND WITTY TRIBUTE TO STEVE WYNN'S FRIEND CHARLIES MEYERSON, Charlie’s Bar + Grill, opened in late summer. It is valuable real estate to dedicate to a friend, flanking the casino floor and anchoring the newly expanded Race & Sports Book. But the so-called “superhost” who worked with the hotelier for four decades wasn’t just any friend. A man whose elegance and charisma charmed everyone “from Saudi princes to the ex-bookmakers, hosts, and self-made guys who existed on the edges of polite society before going legit in Vegas,” Wynn says, their friendship lends a crucial dimension to the Wynn Resorts story itself.
In fact, their relationship seemed virtually preordained—by unusual circumstances. It was March 28, 1963, and Wynn went to see his father in the hospital on the night before his surgery. “I think everything’s going to be all right tomorrow, but in case it’s not, I want you to take care of your mom. And I want you to mark down that I owe your uncle Frank Goldman [his father’s best friend, a bakery owner in Utica] $13,000, and I owe Charlie Meyerson, my buddy who I bet baseball with, $15,000. Pay them, okay?” Mike Wynn told his son. “ ‘Okay, Mike, you bet,’” Wynn recalls telling his father. “And I gave him a kiss and a hug, and walked to the end of the bed and reached down and grabbed his big toe and told him to hold on, and he said, ‘I will.’ That was the last time I talked to my father.” Overnight, only weeks before his graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, Steve Wynn was head of his family, inheritor of a string of bingo parlors, and $350,000 in debt.
Meyerson would have felt right at home hosting Wynn’s clientele behind the gilded peacock doors that lead to this highlimit room in Encore.
That summer, Wynn took his father’s address book and found Meyerson in New York City. Meyerson had withdrawn from bookmaking years earlier, spending his evenings in the restaurant he’d opened near the United Nations and his days dispatching for his own bus and taxi companies. “And this sparkling human,” as Wynn describes him, asked him about his mother, his brother, the business, and his entrance into Georgetown University Law Center, and said, “Sorry about Mike. I loved him.” Wynn responded, “Well, that’s for sure, because the night before he died he made sure I’d bring this to you,” and slid a white envelope filled with the $15,000 he’d saved across the table. Incredulous, Meyerson said, “Stephen, a man’s gambling debts die with him. Everybody knows that. This money was from 1959, and I’d forgotten about it,” and slid it back. “Wait a minute,” Wynn countered, “if you owed my father, wouldn’t you have to pay it?” That broke the solemnity of the moment. “If I owed Michael Wynn $15,000,” Meyerson laughed, “he would have collected it by dinnertime!”
Their friendship blossomed into the 1970s, as Wynn joined the gold rush into the newly legalized gambling arena of New Jersey. “A man that I’d never known while my father was alive became my closest adult friend, watching me struggle to raise money, fail, and start over again.” In 1980, when Wynn opened Atlantic City’s sixth casino, Meyerson joined the team. “Charlie was the spirit of the Golden Nugget and we took total control of the market with the smallest casino,” Wynn recalls. “Back then, the state of New Jersey published the earnings of every company every 90 days. In the first 90 days of 1980, the Nugget made more money than Resorts International Caesars, Bally’s, and Harrah’s combined. Meyerson was a legend.”
Steve Wynn became the youngest casino owner in Las Vegas in 1973, with his majority share. He would open three hotel towers there by 1989.
A Marine who had been wounded in the Pacific during World War II, Meyerson was awarded the Silver Star for heroism. “Still, as brave as he was, he had the softest and most delicious personality. If he said hello to you, you fell in love with him. Men, women, all the wise guys from New York,” Wynn remembers. When Wynn sold the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, Meyerson moved to Las Vegas, “and it was the same story all over again. Guys left Caesars to come see Charlie on Fremont Street.” That set of admirers included Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. It might take the duo several tries to get Meyerson to have a cocktail with them. “They liked the bar upstairs because there was always a lounge act, and they’d end up getting up and clowning around. They always wanted him to come up, but he was too busy regulating traffic,” Wynn laughs.
Zoozacrackers, the deli replaced by Charlie’s in Wynn Las Vegas, was also inspired by Meyerson. “During the war, in the ’40s, there was an animal cracker called Zoozacrackers,” Wynn explains. “There was an expression then that if someone was kooky or unreliable, they’d call him a ‘zoozacracker.’ Charlie would say, ‘If this guy from Baltimore comes in, don’t give him any money—he’s a real zoozacracker.’ [While] none of the younger employees understood the reference, they identified it with Charlie, and it was endearing.”
When Steve Wynn was a young hotelier and Meyerson his mentor, Vegas was still run by a cult of personality. “That’s what made Las Vegas so alluring in the 1960s and ’70s,” Wynn says. “It was a place to be crazy.” As its early characters were nearing retirement, Wynn’s star was on the rise, aided by Charlie Meyerson, whose influence not only paralleled Wynn’s ascent in many ways but also set the contemporary standard for treating guests and employees. Meyerson passed away in 2004, only months before Wynn Las Vegas would open—a resort Wynn is sure his friend would have loved. “No one in the history of gaming has ever had the magic that man had.”