The Steve Wynn sexual harassment scandal is for sure salacious. But all the anti-gaming haters should probably hit the brakes now on talk that it’s going to have an impact on Wynn’s under-construction gambling palace on the Mystic River.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is a lot of things. Bold isn’t one of them. The $2.4 billion Wynn Boston Harbor casino is already half built. Don’t expect construction to halt. Those bright lights will be flashing and slots will be ringing in 2019 as planned, regardless of Steve Wynn’s personal scandals.
There may be some symbolic fist shaking toward the sky along the way as the scandal worsens—and make no mistake, it will.
Wynn stepped down as CEO this week amid reports that he paid $7.5 million to squash a sexual harassment claim that also included a paternity claim. The claims were made by a manicurist at the Wynn Las Vegas, but there has been no evidence that Wynn fathered a child with the woman. And then it was revealed that he formed a separate LLC to make the payoffs. And then it was reported that a Vegas paper had the story in 1998 but buried it. And on and on it has gone and will continue to go.
The Mass Gaming Commission spent millions on background checks on Wynn and his company and certainly missed many boats—especially the sexual harassment scandal—in its supposed deep dive. When it was revealed that Wynn’s longtime partner in Macau, Kazuo Okada, was at the center of a $5 million kickback scandal in the Philippines, it had zero impact on Wynn’s Massachusetts license. As you read this, Wynn is embroiled in a bitter international lawsuit with Okada over control of the company’s Asian gaming empire.
As part of the suit, Wynn was accused by Okada of making a questionable $135 million donation to the University of Macau Development Fund to curry favor with Macau officials. Wynn, in turn, has accused Okada of a series of financial breaches and improprieties, including bribing local officials with gifts. A trial is slated for April in US District Court in Nevada, which isn’t exactly the press Wynn needs right now.
But in Massachusetts, the fix was in for Wynn from day one. Gaming commission chairman Stephen Crosby personally reached out to Wynn and asked him to submit a bid for the Boston license way back when the permitting process was just getting underway. Crosby later recused himself from the permitting process after it was reported that he had personal and prior business ties to one of the owners of the land Wynn ultimately bought for $35 million. The original price was $75 million, but that was chiseled down after reports that a convicted felon was a silent partner in the land deal.
The truth is, Massachusetts is about 20 to 25 years too late on gaming. There are casinos in almost every state now. As a result, questionable deals, compromises, concessions, and many missteps have been made as the state scrambles to catch up and grab a piece of the global gaming gold rush.
In Springfield, the under-construction MGM casino has been reduced significantly from the original winning bid, including the elimination of housing and retail space, and the reduction of a proposed 25-story hotel to a more modest six-story hotel. It’s also been delayed and the gaming commission has investigated claims about a top MGM official’s ties to Asian organized crime. Minor annoyances, apparently, as the state’s first full-service casino is set to open in September.
Since the state legalized gaming in 2011 and decided to allow three casinos and one slots parlor, only Plainridge Park has opened. Plainridge’s license was originally rejected by the Gaming Commission in 2013 after revelations that the track’s longtime boss, Gary Piontkowski, skimmed $1.4 million in cash from the money room. Nonetheless, the commission still gave Plainridge the license after the track’s investors booted Piontkowski and bought out his shares.
The Wynn situation will likely play out similarly. Steve Wynn himself may be blackballed from his own casino, but Wynn is a global corporation that is far bigger than him, with thousands of employees. The Wynn Macau is one of the top five grossing casinos in the world, and Wynn has said he expects his new palace overlooking Boston Harbor to be one of his most opulent and profitable properties. The state is set to reap an estimated $260 million a year from the Wynn windfall.
With all the money and jobs at stake, coupled with the commission’s track record on turning a blind eye to shady dealings, it’s a safe bet that Wynn Boston Harbor will open as planned. Perhaps Wynn’s name will be stripped from the gleaming façade, but any thoughts that this scandal kills the Everett casino are pure fantasy.
You can bet on it.