Stephen P. Crosby, who has led the Massachusetts Gaming Commission from its infancy to a 100-member agency overseeing the state’s growing casino industry, announced Wednesday he is leaving the board immediately, saying false claims of bias against him threaten the commission’s work.
His resignation comes as the board prepares to receive a report from its investigators into sexual misconduct allegations against Steve Wynn, the former chief executive of Wynn Resorts, the Las Vegas gambling giant that won the right to the sole resort casino license in Greater Boston.
In a resignation letter sent to the commission’s staff, Crosby said he had been accused twice since mid-September of “prejudging the outcome” of that investigation — by representatives of Steve Wynn and Mohegan Sun, a casino company that sued the commission for awarding the license to Wynn.
“I simply cannot let my involvement in these critical deliberations be used by others to hamper the commission’s ability to do its work, or to undermine the confidence of the public in that work,” Crosby wrote.
He also noted that Suffolk Downs had recently filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Wynn Resorts, which Crosby said “regurgitated” past claims of bias against him. Crosby did not participate in the 2014 decision to award the license to Wynn Resorts, over a competing proposal from Mohegan Sun at Suffolk Downs property in Revere.
“There has never been a shred of truth or accuracy to any charge of bias, favoritism, corrupt practice, ethics violations, or prejudgment in my execution of this job. I established our core value that our work must be ‘participatory, transparent and fair,’ ” Crosby wrote. “I have said repeatedly over my years as chair that the single highest priority for our work is that we protect the integrity of the decision-making process. And I’ve said repeatedly that the appearance of integrity as well as the reality of integrity is critical.
“With a profound sense of sadness, regret — and yes, frustration—I am resigning as chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, in order to give you the best possible opportunity to do your work without distraction,” he wrote to staff. “And I leave the leadership of this organization in the very capable hands of your four commissioners.”
Then-Governor Deval Patrick named Crosby to the post in late 2011. Crosby was the commission’s first employee. His term would have expired in March.
The allegations against Steve Wynn were reported in January by The Wall Street Journal. Investigators have been working roughly eight months to determine what company officials knew about the allegations and what they did — or didn’t do — about them. The commission has the power to take the license from the company, should it decide Wynn Resorts is not suitable to run a casino here.
Crosby said that on Sept. 17 he received a letter from a lawyer for Steve Wynn, saying he had “already made up his mind” against the gambling mogul. The letter accuses Crosby of calling Wynn a “predator” in a news interview.
Wynn has denied ever assaulting any woman.
On Sept. 25, Crosby received a letter from a Mohegan Sun attorney “insisting that I had already made up my mind in favor of Wynn Resorts in the suitability investigations,” he said.
Wynn Resorts has continued to build its $2.5 billion resort on the Mystic River in Everett during the investigation. Steve Wynn left the company in February, sold his Wynn Resorts stock, and moved out of the villa where he lived at the Wynn Las Vegas complex on the Vegas Strip. The company’s general counsel, Kim Sinatra, has also left the firm, and the company has added female board members.
The Wynn name was dropped from the Everett project, which is now being called Encore Boston Harbor. It is scheduled to open in June.
Leading a commission accustomed to taking flak from many directions, Crosby was known for gamely plunging into large scrums of reporters to defend the board and explain its decisions. For years, he was often the public face of casino gambling in Massachusetts.
Under his leadership, the commission moved methodically — critics would say glacially — to build the agency from scratch and to set the conditions for the competitive bidding for the four coveted casino licenses it controlled. When facing pressure to go faster, Crosby often retreated to an old chestnut: Better to do it right than fast. His chairmanship was marked not with contentious votes, but with the slow, decorous pursuit of consensus on the five-member panel.
He was on the short end of the commission’s first license decision, in early 2014, which awarded the state’s sole slot parlor license to Plainridge Park, in Plainville. Crosby had preferred a competing proposal in Leominster.
The Western Massachusetts resort casino license went to MGM Resorts, the only company in the region to complete the application process. MGM Springfield, the state’s first resort casino, opened in August.
The long, competitive process to award the Greater Boston casino license was fraught with controversy, much of it focused on Crosby. In late 2013, he recused himself from a commission review of Wynn Resorts’ real estate deal for the land in Everett, after disclosing that a friend and former business partner had a stake in the property.
In 2014, Crosby recused himself entirely from the decision on the Greater Boston license, after he caught sharp criticism for attending a party at Suffolk Downs. Though the commission also oversees horse racing, Crosby acknowledged he had become “a distraction and potential threat to our critical appearance of total impartiality.”
Without Crosby, the Gaming Commission voted 3 to 1 to award the license to Wynn Resorts.
The commission also controls a resort casino license for Southeastern Massachusetts that has not been awarded. It has held off while the Mashpee Wampanoag have tried to overcome legal hurdles to opening a tribal casino in Taunton.
The commission is due to meet Thursday morning.