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Yvonne Abraham

The Wynn mess, and the Mass. Gaming Commission’s big problem

A Wynn sign at the casino under construction in Everett.
A Wynn sign at the casino under construction in Everett.(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File)

A fish rots from the head, but it rarely stops there.

Steve Wynn is detaching himself from the company building a gambling palace on the Mystic River after allegations of appalling sexual misconduct against him. But as a bombshell report in The Wall Street Journal last week made clear, the problems at Wynn Resorts go much deeper than the casino mogul whose transgressions went unchecked for decades.

And that means the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has a very big problem. Sure, Wynn himself is unsuitable to hold a casino license in this state. But it increasingly looks like the company that bears his name is dodgy as all get-out, too.

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It’s bad enough that Wynn Resorts withheld from the Gaming Commission the fact that its CEO had paid $7.5 million in 2005 to a manicurist who said Wynn had forced her to have sex. That alone likely would have disqualified the company had the state gambling officials discovered the deception sooner.

But, according to the Journal report, managers and supervisors at Wynn Resorts were not only aware of their boss’s odious behavior, but enabled it — and stymied women who tried to complain. Managers told employees to keep quiet about the abuse, if they wanted to keep their jobs.

“Don’t try to make this into anything,” one victim said the head of human resources warned her.

Oh, but it is something. Especially here in Massachusetts, where the Gaming Commission set such high suitability standards that Caesar’s Entertainment was booted from one proposed casino project after the commission raised questions about a Caesar’s business partner in a Las Vegas project.

A company where managers enable a sexual predator in the systematic way described by former employees at Wynn Resorts is unsuitable to hold a gambling license in Massachusetts — just as a company that was laundering money, or had ties to organized crime figures, would be unfit to hold one here. That’s especially true now, when we claim we no longer tolerate the epidemic of workplace harassment the Harvey Weinstein scandal laid bare. Simply lopping Wynn’s name off the casino won’t make the company’s deplorable treatment of its employees go away.

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Commission chairman Stephen Crosby said last week that Wynn Resorts now “proceeds with this project on an at-risk basis.”

But the risk is not Wynn’s alone.

It was one thing to take a tough stand on ethics when casinos were still shiny dreams in Massachusetts, the gleaming castles from which magical money would flow into our communities and classrooms at no cost to the Commonwealth or its citizens.

It’s something entirely otherwise now, with the $2.4 billion bronze palace — the largest single-phase construction project in the history of the Commonwealth — already underway on the Mystic, a thousand workers toiling there every day. Pulling Wynn’s license means starting over with whoever would replace the company, a process that could take six months, or longer, and lead to a temporary shutdown.

It will be ugly, and costly, and hard. But the Gaming Commission must do it. Or else concede that its high standards no longer apply once shovels hit the ground.

That might be the realistic position. None of the ugliness at Wynn Resorts should surprise us. Casinos aren’t exactly enlightened places. They’re built on objectifying women — with the showgirls, and the floor staff wearing not much at all — just as surely as they’re built on separating rubes from their money.

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While gaming regulators must rid their states of certain bad actors, a good amount of sleaze is baked in.

Take, as an edifying out-of-town example, the Atlantic Casino Hilton Hotel, built in 1985. Just before that casino opened, the New Jersey Casino Commission voted to deny Hilton a gaming license because some connected to the company had associated in the past with organized crime figures.

Though Hilton denied the charges, it decided to sell the hotel, at cost, to someone deemed completely suitable.

One Donald J. Trump.

Correction: Due to a reporter’s error, an earlier version of this story mischaracterized a $7.5 million settlement paid to a manicurist who said former Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn had forced her to have sex. It was paid by Wynn himself, not by his company. The Globe regrets the error.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.