Encore Boston Harbor owner Wynn Resorts has made a “sincere commitment” to preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace following a 2018 scandal that toppled the company’s founder and nearly cost the company its Massachusetts license, according to a crucial report released Thursday.
Investigators hired by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission told the regulatory body Thursday that Wynn’s "commitment is reflected in some of the changes already implemented at the company and in the company’s demonstrated willingness to continue to build upon those changes.”
Their report cited improvements to company culture, more transparent practices for handling complaints, and staffing changes after a crisis involving sexual misconduct allegations against founder and former CEO Steve Wynn. But it also highlighted some areas of risk, including whether the company would keep up its rate of progress amid financial challenges in the industry, and specifically at the Everett property
The investigators said they observed “expressions of frustration” from leadership at Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts about the financial performance of the casino in its first few months, along with concerns from employees that the company “is not standing behind the property to the extent that it should.”
The report said leaders of Encore Boston Harbor had been clear that Wynn chief executive Matt Maddox, who was elevated to the top role after Steve Wynn left in 2018, “has been generous with his time and company resources,” but it added that “the sentiment of [Encore] not being valued by the larger organization is palpable.”
The report, which covers a six-month period that began last September, is part of an ongoing monitoring program that Wynn agreed to last year as one of the costly conditions of keeping its license following the allegations against Steve Wynn, which he has denied.
Wynn Resorts said it had paid the law firm carrying out the monitoring, Miller & Chevalier, $830,000 through February. The gaming commission also imposed a $35 million fine in April 2019 over the actions of former executives who covered up the allegations against Wynn.
Investigators said they have already reviewed hundreds of documents and spoken to at least 200 Massachusetts and Las Vegas employees in interviews and focus groups.
Alejandra Montenegro Almonte, an attorney with Miller & Chevalier who is leading the investigation, told the commission the company “ought to be commended” for what it’s done so far, and she noted that many reforms had been carried out by the time her team arrived, “which reinforces our view that this is a sincere effort this company is making.”
Encore, which opened last June, had been falling short of its expected $800 million in first-year gaming revenue even before March, when it agreed to close as part of statewide efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Wynn has made some changes in Everett as part of its efforts to more quickly grow its business in an increasingly competitive northeastern gambling market.
It last year replaced its president, Robert DeSalvio ― who steered the $2.6 billion project through construction and its first months of operations ― with Brian Gullbrants, who had headed the casino’s hotel and food business as executive vice president of operations. Gullbrants has overseen efforts to broaden Encore’s appeal with lower-cost dining and gambling options.
The report says workers told investigators that they feel connected to Gullbrants, and that he “is known for frequently walking the casino floor and interacting with employees.”
The monitoring group found at least one incident in which employees had complained about the behavior of one person in Encore leadership, and that Wynn Resorts had “investigated the behavior and reprimanded and coached the senior manager.” The person was not identified.
The report did find that the Everett casino was lagging Wynn Resorts’ Vegas properties in some measures of how comfortable employees felt at work. For example, when it conducted an anonymous survey asking whether there was anyone ― such as managers or patrons ― who can get away with harassment or discrimination, 59 percent of employees in Las Vegas said no, while only 37 percent in Massachusetts responded that way.
The investigators also told the commission that “offending behavior by patrons presents the highest risk factor for harassment and discrimination.” The report described concerns among some employees that Wynn Resorts’s emphasis on guest service left them unclear about what to do if a visitor — especially a high roller — got out of line.
It said the “emphasis of service is unintentionally ‘disempowering’ and leads to certain patron behaviors going unreported by employees, especially if the offending employee is a high-value patron.”
Wynn Resorts said in a letter to the commission that it strives to show employees “that we will do all we can to assure their health and well-being.” Encore is the only casino in Massachusetts that has kept employees on the payroll so far amid the coronavirus shutdown.