Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

For the gaming commission, trust questions remain about Wynn

Medford, MA - 3/15/2016 - Steve Wynn speaks to reporters about a planned casino in Everett during a press conference in Medford, MA March 15, 2016. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff Topic: 16wynn Reporter:
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File
Steve Wynn spoke about his planned casino in 2016.

After Steve Wynn, Wynn Resorts is like that bad boyfriend who promises he’s changing into someone you can take home to Mom.

Don’t be fooled by the new look, which includes a “refreshed” board and updated corporate policies. This is a company whose current CEO, Matthew Maddox, was best man at one of Wynn’s weddings, and whose first reaction to the allegations about Wynn was denial. Its new “reform-minded” board includes Dee Dee Myers, the White House press secretary for Bill Clinton, who described sexual harassment charges made against him as lies. And the largest private shareholder is Wynn’s former wife, Elaine — and she previously withheld information about Wynn’s sexual misconduct from investigators.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is deciding whether Wynn Resorts remains suitable to keep its license to operate a casino in Everett, after company executives covered up allegations about their founder. At hearings this week, Wynn Resorts is making the case it has transformed itself from a company that Maddox said was “about a man” into one that is about employees and its corporate values.

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But the big question concerns the company’s future leadership. The ongoing hostility between Maddox and Elaine Wynn — who brought allegations of Steve Wynn’s sexual misconduct to the board’s attention in the fallout from their bitter divorce — is a poorly kept secret. Sources close to Wynn Resorts predict that once the licensing issue is resolved, one of them will try to take the other out.

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The Wynn Resorts team didn’t introduce Elaine Wynn during the hearing. And on Wednesday, the longstanding anger toward her spilled out into the open when board member Patricia Mulroy said the board did not believe the allegations against Steve Wynn because they were first mentioned in a lawsuit filed by his former wife. Asked why board members were angry at Elaine Wynn instead of at Steve Wynn, Mulroy said, “Everything was seen through the filter of litigation and animosity to Mrs. Wynn.”

Mulroy also said the board was assured by Kimmarie Sinatra, then the company’s general counsel, that the issue of sexual misconduct that was raised by Elaine Wynn involved consensual sex. Sinatra left the company last August, with a nearly $10 million severance payout, which commission members also questioned.

Wynn, who denies all the allegations, resigned from the company in February 2018. He has zero equity ownership, and physically left the Las Vegas premises where he lived. All traces of his image and voice were also removed, so that employees would not have to see or hear him, Philip Satre, the new chairman of the Wynn board told the gaming commission.

With Steve Wynn gone, and new board members and sexual harassment guidelines in place, Wynn Resorts is trying to convince the gaming commission it deserves to keep its license.

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But for the gaming commission, trust questions remain. Can Massachusetts regulators trust Elaine Wynn, when she did not tell them what she knew about Steve Wynn’s alleged sexual misconduct when the company’s suitability first came under consideration in 2013? Can they believe Maddox when he insists he knew nothing about sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Wynn?

The gaming commission report raises some questions about what Maddox actually knew about Wynn’s behavior. He acknowledges being told about a massage therapist who felt uncomfortable about a request from Wynn to give him and his wife, Andrea, a “sensual massage.” But he said he did not know the massage therapist did not want to provide services to Wynn because he only wore a towel and “the towel falls off.”

Asked directly about the incident during the hearing, Maddox said he had no reason to believe Wynn would be engaged in inappropriate behavior.

He also said he was distracted by major shareholder lawsuits and thought the allegation raised by Elaine Wynn in her complaint was part of “litigation strategy.” At the same time, he acknowledges that when he was chief financial officer, he, Steve Wynn, and Sinatra were basically running the company. Yet, as CFO, Maddox knew nothing about financial payouts?

What did he know and when did he know it? Those are questions the gaming commissioners rightly put to Maddox - and should put to Elaine Wynn. They should also ask who’s going to be in charge when the licensing dust settles - before Massachusetts recommits to a long term relationship with Wynn Resorts.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.