Accusations of sexual misconduct against billionaire Las Vegas gambling magnate Steve Wynn on Friday quickly triggered a review by the enforcement arm of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the powerful panel with broad legal authority to decide who is suitable to hold a state casino license.
The company Wynn runs, Wynn Resorts, is building the centerpiece of Massachusetts’ new casino industry, a $2.4 billion gambling palace on the Mystic River in Everett, with views of the Boston skyline and high expectations for the millions of dollars in state tax money it is expected to generate.
“The commission is now aware of and is taking very seriously the troubling allegations,” Elaine Driscoll, the gaming commission’s spokeswoman, said in a statement hours after a Wall Street Journal report outlined allegations of a pattern of sexual misconduct against Wynn, 76.
“The suitability and integrity of our gaming licensees is of the utmost importance, and ensuring that suitability is an active and ongoing process,” Driscoll said. “Consequently, the MGC’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau will conduct a regulatory review of this matter to determine the appropriate next steps.”
The commission does not conduct criminal inquiries and will not be investigating specific misconduct accusations against Wynn, who denied the allegations Friday. Massachusetts regulators will probably keep in close contact with their counterparts in Nevada and will track any developments with the accusations. The Everett casino, called Wynn Boston Harbor, is set to open in 2019.
Under Massachusetts law, character, reputation, and integrity are all elements of “suitability” to hold a casino license. Wynn Resorts and its key officials passed an extensive suitability review before the company won a state casino license in 2014.
“We have been in contact with the MGC and will be fully cooperative with any review the commission chooses to undertake,” said a Wynn Resorts spokesman.
Clyde Barrow, a University of Texas professor who closely follows the New England casino industry, said fallout over Wynn’s alleged conduct is unlikely to affect the completion of the company’s Everett resort.
“Wynn Resorts is a corporation; it’s much bigger than Steve Wynn,” Barrow said. “I don’t think the fate of Wynn Boston Harbor is tied to the fate of Steve Wynn.”
Wynn, credited as the inventor of the modern Vegas resort, is Wynn Resorts’ founder and chief executive. It is an international, publicly traded casino company with high-end properties in Las Vegas and Macau.
Wynn Resorts stock fell about 10 percent after the news broke around noon Friday. Wynn is the company’s largest investor, with a stake of nearly 12 percent.
The Journal story, posted on the newspaper’s website, said dozens of people interviewed who have worked for Wynn “told of behavior that cumulatively would amount to a decades long pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Wynn,” including acts of exposing himself and pressuring employees for sex. The story said that in 2005, Wynn forced a manicurist at his Las Vegas casino property into sex and later paid her a $7.5 million settlement.
In a statement, Wynn said, “The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous. We find ourselves in a world where people can make allegations, regardless of the truth, and a person is left with the choice of weathering insulting publicity or engaging in multi-year lawsuits. It is deplorable for anyone to find themselves in this situation.”
Wynn blamed his former wife, with whom he has been fighting over restrictions on the sale of her stock in Wynn Resorts.
“The instigation of these accusations is the continued work of my ex-wife Elaine Wynn, with whom I am involved in a terrible and nasty lawsuit in which she is seeking a revised divorce settlement,” Wynn said. “Elaine has explicitly threatened to slander and destroy me and I am surprised that the media is allowing itself to be used to advance this agenda.”
An attorney for Elaine Wynn told the Journal that the accusation she instigated the Journal article “is just not true.’’ She declined to speak to the Journal.
In December, Bloomberg News reported that the 2005 settlement had been an issue in the lawsuit between Steve and Elaine Wynn but said the details of what led to the settlement were “only hinted at in the heavily redacted court filings.”
Wynn Resorts on Friday released a statement backing its chief executive and said it is “committed to operating with the highest ethical standards and maintaining a safe and respectful culture that has made Wynn Resorts the employer of choice for 23,000 employees worldwide.”
Roger Gros, publisher of the industry magazine Global Gaming Business, said he had heard the lengthy Journal piece was in the works, and does not expect it to affect Wynn’s standing in Wynn Resorts.
“He runs the company and the board is pretty much in his pocket, so I think he is safe,” Gros said.
He also said he doubted Wynn Resorts’ business would significantly suffer from the accusations against the chief executive.
“The people who go to his places don’t really go for him. They go for the luxury experience. There will be people who look askance on it but not major players in the industry.”
For Everett, the Wynn casino is anticipated to be an economic driver and an enormous source of jobs. A spokesman for the city declined to comment Friday.
Wynn Resorts beat a competing proposal in Revere by Mohegan Sun to win the Boston-area resort casino license, expected to be the most lucrative of the three resort licenses created by the state’s 2011 expanded gambling law.
The company has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to clean pollution at the site and begin building the resort. The complex is scheduled to open at 8 p.m. on June 24, 2019.