Over three days of hearings last month, Elaine Wynn looked on stoically as Massachusetts regulators grilled Wynn Resorts executives about her ex-husband’s alleged sexual offenses, a litany of accusations that drove the casino mogul out of the business.
The details were painful, exhausting. For Elaine Wynn, surely, the long hours of testimony must have been doubly difficult. It raised the obvious question: Why was she doing this at all?
She could have avoided it all easily enough by selling off most or all of her shares in Wynn Resorts, the Las Vegas company she cofounded with Steve Wynn in 2002. But no, she told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, she’s not going anywhere.
“I’m here because I am team Wynn,” she said.
Her resolve to stick it out reflects her devotion to the firm that has her name, her friends say.
“Elaine cares about the company and her people, about the legacy of that organization,” said Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments in Chicago and a longtime friend of Wynn.
Wynn is a top company shareholder, with a 9 percent stake worth about $1.3 billion.
Her long career includes a 1999 induction into the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame. She was number nine last year on the Forbes list of “America’s Richest Self-Made Women.” For her accumulated knowledge and mentoring, Wynn has earned a special status among women at the highest levels of US businesses, Hobson said.
“The joke among our friends is we call her our godmother,” Hobson said. “A godmother is someone looking out for you, who is nurturing and supporting you. I have a bunch of friends and that’s what we call her.”
Wynn, 77, has also been called the Queen of Las Vegas. Now, with the imminent debut of the company’s Encore Boston Harbor resort casino, she is about to become part of the local civic landscape, too.
On Monday, she was at the Celtics playoff game at TD Garden. The Celtics were bad, but it is a good bet Wynn will be back. She is, in her own words, “a crazed basketball fanatic.” She sits on the board of governors for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield.
The Encore Boston Harbor, the first Las Vegas-style casino in Greater Boston, is set to open in about six weeks. It is the largest single-phased private development in state history, a $2.6 billion resort hotel on the Mystic River in Everett, stuffed with more than 3,000 slot machines, an array of table games, event space, 671 hotel rooms and suites, and 15 new bars and restaurants. The Encore will employ some 5,500 people and is expected to draw millions of customers annually, ensuring it will have a strong pull on the cultural gravity of the region.
State regulators last month ruled that Wynn Resorts could retain its Massachusetts casino license, though they fined the company $35 million after state investigators found that former executives covered up misconduct allegations against Steve Wynn.
Steve Wynn left the company and sold his Wynn Resorts stock early last year, after The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2018 that he had been accused of a pattern of misconduct. He has denied any nonconsensual sexual relationships.
Elaine Wynn declined to be interviewed for this story but told The New York Times last May, “My mission is to resurrect the integrity of this extraordinary company that is really the capstone of my professional life.”
Sallie Krawcheck, cofounder and CEO of the investment company Ellevest and former chief executive of both Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, said Elaine Wynn “is, for generations of women, really iconic.”
“She continues to be in the game every day, and she was part of creating a valuable company,” Krawcheck said. “As I look toward extending my career through decades, she’s a great role model and example.”
Elaine Wynn was born in New York City and graduated from George Washington University with a degree in political science. She married Steve Wynn in 1963, when she was 21. They divorced in 1986 and then remarried in 1991. They cofounded Wynn Resorts in 2002, and Elaine Wynn served on the company’s board of directors until 2015. The couple divorced again in 2010, and Steve Wynn married his current wife, Andrea Hissom, in 2011.
Elaine Wynn testified in April before the Gaming Commission because it needed to assess her fitness to hold a position of influence in a casino. Much of the questioning revolved around a $7.5 million settlement Steve Wynn paid in 2005 to a former manicurist at Wynn Resorts who had accused him of rape.
In 2009, during Steve and Elaine Wynn’s second divorce, one of Elaine Wynn’s lawyers received an e-mail from a woman who alleged that Steve Wynn had raped her stepdaughter and had signed a multimillion-dollar settlement with her, state investigators found. Elaine Wynn told investigators that reading that e-mail was “one of the single most upsetting things that’s ever happened to me.”
She said she confronted her husband, who denied the accusation and suggested he had been blackmailed. She said she reported the accusation in 2009 to the company’s general counsel.
Elaine Wynn did not tell the board of directors at the time but later raised the existence of the settlement in litigation with the company in 2016.
The Wall Street Journal revealed the nature of the settlement in 2018.
The Gaming Commission, while affirming Elaine Wynn is suitable to be a major shareholder in the company, said certain aspects of her behavior raised concerns. Her failure to inform the board of directors or state regulators about the rape allegation and settlement was “particularly troubling,” the board wrote in its report. “The various conflicting facts she learned concerning whether the event was consensual and Ms. Wynn’s reaction thereto showed a concerning lack of diligence to further investigate or address an extremely troubling event.”
The commission concluded, however, that while Wynn could have done more to instigate an investigation into the allegation, she was not legally obligated to do so.