Wynn Resorts to face Massachusetts regulators in bid to save gaming license after last year's #MeToo scandal

Key Points
  • The Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing will examine Wynn Resorts' conduct in dealing with accusations of rape and sexual misconduct against founder and former CEO Steve Wynn.
  • The hearing begins Tuesday and is expected to last three days.
  • At stake is Wynn Resorts' state gaming license.
Former Wynn Resorts' CEO Steve Wynn at the Venetian Las Vegas on September 30, 2014.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images

This week, Wynn Resorts goes on trial, or at least something resembling it.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is calling the casino giant on the carpet for repeatedly turning a blind eye to accusations of rape and sexual misconduct against founder and former CEO Steve Wynn. A hearing will begin on Tuesday and is expected to last three days. The hearing will culminate in a decision about whether to revoke Wynn Resorts' state gaming license. The casino won the license in 2013, beating out competitors including Caesars and Mohegan Sun.

The scandal swirling around Steve Wynn has called the company's suitability qualifications into question. The board of Wynn Resorts had been specifically instructed by its counsel not to reveal to the commission the existence of a $7.5 million settlement paid by Steve Wynn to a former employee to settle sexual harassment claims. The commission was not informed that multiple employees had complained through proper channels about serious misbehavior by the company's then-CEO.

Steve Wynn stepped down as chairman in February last year. By the end of March, he'd sold his entire stake in the company he'd founded. He continues to deny all allegations of sexual misconduct.

Wynn Resorts has already admitted to a litany of charges, laid out in a complaint by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. That complaint had detailed how more than half a dozen casino executives learned of serious allegations against Steve Wynn but failed to follow the company's own policies in response.

In February, the Nevada Gaming Commission levied a historic $20 million fine against Wynn Resorts, nearly quadrupling the previous record fine. Commissioner Philip Pro said, "It's about a failure of a corporate culture to effectively govern itself as it should."

Business valued on its assets, and we have best in business: Wynn CEO

CEO Matt Maddox and Chairman Phil Satre, who joined the board after the resignations of Steve Wynn and subsequent chairman and longtime Wynn pal Boone Wayson, argued the company had undergone a paradigm shift and reinvented itself.

It separated completely from Steve Wynn within months of The Wall Street Journal article in January 2018 outlining a slew of allegations. No executive blamed in the Nevada complaint is with the company any longer, including Wynn Las Vegas President Maurice Wooden and General Counsel Kim Sinatra. The company's board also was refreshed, with the addition of three women directors.

Wynn Resorts also has overhauled its policies on sexual harassment. It now requires training for every employee and has installed an independent compliance committee to oversee both the training and the complaints. After the company agreed to settle with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, it released a statement saying, "We have undergone an extensive self-examination over the last 12 months, intended to reinvigorate and implement meaningful change across all levels of the organization."

Wynn Resorts said Maddox was not available for an interview ahead of Tuesday's hearing.

Maddox role in spotlight

In Massachusetts, gaming regulators will decide whether Wynn Resorts or its associated qualifiers violated state laws or regulations. They will determine whether the company failed to abide by its own internal policies and procedures. Commissioners will tackle questions about whether the company or executives lied or provided misleading statements after the license was awarded.

Maddox will face special scrutiny. He has been with the company since 2002 and was president from 2013 until he stepped into the role of CEO after Wynn's departure. He was known to be Wynn's protege, but in an interview shortly after becoming CEO, he told CNBC that he didn't have any actionable knowledge of the Wynn allegations.

"There was never a complaint that made it to me," he said. Maddox then pointed out he'd appointed Sinatra as a new diversity and inclusion officer, saying she had "been my partner at this company over the last 15 years and is an incredible executive."

But Sinatra knew about multiple instances of sexual harassment allegations against Wynn and failed to report them, according to the complaint filed with the Nevada Gaming Commission — and admitted to by Wynn Resorts.

Also under a microscope at this week's hearing will be Elaine Wynn, Steve Wynn's ex-wife, who is co-founder of Wynn Resorts and was a longtime board member. (She stepped down in 2015.) With almost 9 percent ownership of outstanding shares, Elaine Wynn is the company's largest individual shareholder and subject to suitability requirements in Massachusetts.

She testified in court in March last year that in 2009 she had told Sinatra, then the company's general counsel, that she'd gotten information about an alleged rape by her ex-husband against an employee in 2005.

Elaine Wynn was a director when the Massachusetts gaming license was granted. She and Maddox are the only original individual qualifiers remaining. The current qualifiers have been asked to attend — including all the current board members — to be available to testify.

Encore Boston Harbor set to open in June

Wynn Resorts considers its property in Everett, outside Boston, to be integral to its growth strategy. It changed the name from Wynn Boston Harbor to Encore Boston Harbor — to distance itself from Steve Wynn's brand. The $2.6 billion property on the Mystic River has begun taking reservations for its anticipated opening in June.

Gaming analysts have begun factoring in expected earnings from Encore Boston Harbor. The expectation generally is that Wynn Resorts will retain its license but pay a significant fine. Analysts point to the investment that Wynn made to recover the property, once a toxic waste site, as well as the 4,000 union jobs the project created for construction. Nearly the same amount is anticipated when the resort opens its doors for business.

But Nomura/Instinet analyst Harry Curtis said "the potential revocation" of its gaming license in Massachusetts is still a risk to the stock.

Wynn shares were up 8 percent Monday, along with other casino stocks, after Macau gaming revenue in March was better than expected. The stock, which has a market capitalization of $13.9 billion, has lost nearly 30 percent of its value over the past year but is up nearly 30 percent since January.

A written decision from the gaming commission will be issued after a period of deliberation but is not expected immediately.