The Massachusetts Gaming Commission opens three days of scheduled public hearings Tuesday to review whether Las Vegas gambling giant Wynn Resorts remains fit to hold a Massachusetts casino license, after an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against the company’s founder and former chief executive, Steve Wynn.
Some 20 witnesses are expected to appear before the commission, with testimony focusing on who knew about Wynn’s alleged conduct, what they did about it, and whether the company at any point misled the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Here is the quick-start guide to this week’s hearings:
The background: Wynn Resorts won the sole Greater Boston casino license in 2014 and began construction on a gambling resort on the banks of the Mystic River in Everett. In January 2018, The Wall Street Journal published a story detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against Wynn by former employees of the Wynn Las Vegas hotel and casino. Wynn, 77, has denied the allegations.
Gambling regulators in Nevada and Massachusetts launched investigations. Wynn quickly resigned and sold his company stock.
Nevada regulators concluded that a number of Wynn Resorts officials over a period of years failed to follow company policy and initiate investigations into the complaints about Wynn. None of those officials are still with the company, Wynn Resorts has said.
In February, Nevada fined Wynn Resorts $20 million, but allowed it to continue operating.
This week, Massachusetts regulators will lay out the findings of their investigation and give the company the opportunity to prove it is still suitable to hold a license here.
Suitable to hold a license? What does that mean?
This is a catch-all term for the requirements that a company demonstrate good financial health, the ability to run a successful casino and, most importantly in this week’s hearings, that the company’s key leaders conduct themselves ethically. Wynn Resorts and its top leaders, including Wynn, passed an initial background investigation in 2013, and were declared suitable by the commission in a unanimous vote. The report from that investigation does not mention sexual misconduct allegations in the section that covers Wynn.
During this week’s hearings, Wynn Resorts plans to argue that it has retooled over the past year by separating from its founder, replacing much of its board, and removing executives named in the Nevada report for failing to follow company policy on harassment and misconduct complaints. The company is expected to say that it has approved new policies, employee training, and safeguards to ensure no complaint could go unaddressed.
As the investigation stretched on over the past year, Wynn Resorts continued to build its $2.6 billion gambling resort, the largest single-phase, private development in state history. Encore Boston Harbor is scheduled to open June 23, with a workforce of roughly 5,000 people. It is expected to produce millions of dollars of revenue for Everett and neighboring municipalities, state government, and private vendors doing business with the casino.
If Wynn Resorts cannot demonstrate at the hearing that it is suitable to hold a license, the commission can take its license away. What would happen to the project in that case is unclear.
This week’s logistics
The hearings open Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The hearing room is open to members of the public and the media.
In a significant policy departure for the gaming commission — which live-streams most of its public meetings, even the super-dry stuff – the highly anticipated Wynn Resorts hearings will not be available to view on the commission’s website.
“The decision to not broadcast the hearing over the Internet is pursuant to the advice of legal counsel,” a commission spokesman said in a statement. “However, the hearing is open to the public and the press. The MGC selected a large venue to accommodate for public interest and increased attendance. We also anticipate a significant amount of media coverage throughout the proceedings.”
Why would the lawyers be weighing in on the public broadcast of the hearing? The commission has already been sued once in a Las Vegas court over the Wynn Resorts investigation — by Steve Wynn.
The casino mogul alleged in his suit that certain documents the company gave to investigators were protected by attorney-client privilege and should not have been turned over. That case was ultimately settled.
Three days of hearings have been scheduled this week, April 2-4, but that is just an estimate and nobody knows exactly how long the procedure will take. Commissioners plan morning and afternoon sessions.
The key players
The five-member gaming commission will hear the evidence. Three of the members have been with the board since its creation in 2012: Gayle Cameron, Enrique Zuniga, and Bruce Stebbins. Two commissioners joined the panel after Wynn Resorts won its license: Eileen O’Brien and Cathy Judd-Stein, the panel’s chair.
The commission has directed Wynn Resorts to make sure that 17 of its employees are at the hearing and available to respond to questions.
They include chief executive Matt Maddox; members of the company’s board of directors, including new chairman Phillip Satre; Elaine Wynn, a major shareholder whose former spouse is Steve Wynn; and Robert DeSalvio, president of Encore Boston Harbor.
No decision is expected at the close of the hearing. The commission will discuss the evidence in closed session and issue a written decision at some later date, probably later this month.Mark Arsenault can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark