Just when there seemed to be no bizarre turns left for the Wynn casino in Everett, news broke last week that the company has discussed selling the not-yet-completed gambling palace to a well-heeled rival, MGM.
Wynn Resorts executives seem to be concerned that their license to operate in Massachusetts is in jeopardy, and they might have reason to be worried. A sexual misconduct scandal has already forced Steve Wynn, the company’s founder and guiding force, to step down as CEO and sell his interest in the company that bears his name.
And it’s possible that even that move may not be enough to soothe the concerns of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Following reports that Wynn paid $7.5 million to a manicurist who credibly claimed sexual misconduct, the commission is investigating whether the company’s conduct should preclude it from operating in Everett, under the stringent standards imposed on casino operators.
This is a shocking turn of events. Or maybe not. The road to casinos in Massachusetts has been long, and rocky. It feels like 30 years since Governor Deval Patrick successfully sold the state on the notion of “destination casinos,” and ages since voters shot down the idea of a Suffolk Downs casino in a shocking referendum. (It was actually 2013.) Nothing about this has been easy.
Despite all the claims that gaming in Massachusetts would meet the highest standards for moral rectitude, the scandal that proved Steve Wynn’s undoing surprised hardly anyone. So the casino has been plunged into uncertainty.
It’s hard to believe that Wynn Enterprises really wants to sell the property, a project in which it has invested years of sweat equity and an estimated $1 billion in hard cash. Construction is charging ahead, as the company rushes to make its planned June 2019 opening. More likely, Wynn officials are using the threat of sale to throw the process into (further) chaos and prod the Gaming Commission into deciding sooner rather than later whether Wynn Resorts gets to keep its casino.
The commission is in an unenviable position. If Wynn keeps its license and proceeds as scheduled, the panel will be accused of rank hypocrisy, or talking a good game on ethics but backing down when it counted. But if Wynn is stripped of its license, the company is left with half a casino, years of wasted time, and a ton of broken promises to Everett, which is counting on the casino as the key to its long-overdue revitalization.
Some thoughtful people believe that Wynn should be forced out, and they have a case. It seems likely that a Steve Wynn-run company wouldn’t have qualified for a license if the payoff had been disclosed, and that it is clear that others in the company helped to abet bad behavior.
Although I see their point, I am not sold on the Wynn-must-go argument. Wynn himself has stepped down. Restarting this process would probably delay the casino for at least a year. What about the 1,500 people who are working there on the site? What about the city of Everett, which views Wynn Enterprises as its partner in revitalizing an entire swath of the city?
There was never any question in my mind that Steve Wynn needed to leave the company. But, barring more revelations, stripping the company of its license seems like an unwise move to me.
The commission has other, better options. Among them are fining the company heavily for not being forthcoming in the application process, and forcing out any remaining Wynn executives who helped to cover up any other proven immoral behavior. The casino shouldn’t bear Wynn’s name, either.
That solution won’t satisfy those who believe casinos were a bad bet for Massachusetts from the beginning. That fight has already been lost. Booting Wynn out of Everett is a feel-good move that fixes little. As far as I’m concerned, Everett shouldn’t have to pay for Steve Wynn’s misdeeds.