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Yvonne Abraham

Wynn-MGM saga has more twists and turns than a romance novel

The MGM Springfield casino.Charles Krupa/Associated Press/File 2018/Associated Press

Romance, infidelity, heartbreak: This Wynn-MGM saga has more twists and turns than a Danielle Steel novel.

Poor Springfield really thought MGM Resorts was the one. For decades, the city seemed homely, past its prime, left on the shelf. Then, along came gorgeous MGM, riding into town — was there a white horse, or did it only seem so? — with its Vegas sizzle and its $10 million courtship. MGM executives made politicians and community groups feel special, showering the city with gifts — fancy fireworks and sparkling Christmas lights and hefty donations to community groups — and spending with abandon on public professions of love.


Marry me, MGM said to Springfield, and we will make a beautiful casino together. The city and Mayor Domenic Sarno were besotted. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, said he and 13,972 voters.

Their union, and their prenuptial agreement (Springfield was infatuated, not stupid), was blessed by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Last summer, a bouncing baby gambling palace was born.

But the marriage quickly began falling short of the courtship’s passionate expectations. Springfield was still happy enough: MGM was delivering on its promises, beginning to revitalize neighborhoods, and bringing glam to the neglected West — Cher had come to town! — not to mention a cut of the winnings.

Still, it wasn’t working out as well as MGM had dreamed. Revenues were falling short of projections. Customers at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun — the Connecticut casinos initially worried about MGM stealing their clientele — were largely staying put. And the tribes that run those two operations have been working toward a third casino to claw back more gamblers.

And so, MGM’s eye began to wander — east, to Everett, where the marriage between Wynn and Massachusetts had hit the rocks after former CEO Steve Wynn allegedly harassed and assaulted his employees while company officials did nothing or covered it up.


The Gaming Commission didn’t know any of this in 2014 when it chose glamorous Wynn for the lucrative Boston-area casino license over less showy suitors, like the boys-next-door at Suffolk Downs. Steve Wynn exited the company, but the commission took new CEO Matt Maddox to the woodshed, levying a $35 million fine on the company and a big fine and extra requirements on Maddox himself.

The conventional wisdom was that the commission couldn’t boot Wynn altogether, because Everett was already heavily pregnant with Encore Boston, due to open in late June. How could anybody invite the chaos that would ensue by scuttling a 5,000-employee operation that far along?

Hold my beer, said Maddox, who appears to have been so miffed at the commission’s personal reprimand that he decided to do himself what they hadn’t the fortitude to — leave Massachusetts. And so Wynn began canoodling with MGM.

There had been rumored flirtations between them before. But this time, they were caught in flagrante delicto. Last Friday, the two admitted they were talking about MGM buying Encore. Which would mean that Wynn would leave Massachusetts and, because of state regulations, that MGM would have to leave Springfield.

Was MGM toying with Springfield’s heart? Was Wynn ditching Everett? No, the companies proclaimed. Their relationship was 100 percent platonic. This was nothing more than talk, based on a fiduciary duty to explore business proposals. For MGM, this was totally not about the fact that Everett is more attractive. And for Wynn, this had nothing to do with the Gaming Commission acting like a set of uptight, live-in in-laws. And it certainly wasn’t about reminding Massachusetts that Wynn could ditch the state if regulators here got too needy.


State and local officials were duly freaked out, vowing to enforce their onerous prenups with gusto, including vetoing a sale, if it came to that. And so, on Tuesday, MGM and Wynn ended discussions, renewing their vows with their respective cities. Officials in Springfield and Everett were relieved, and happy.

But can they really be sure their beloveds won’t stray again? How can one forget the fact that a spouse was contemplating infidelity? Or unsee the evidence that companies dedicated to separating ever more rubes from their money appear motivated by their bottom lines, and not by altruism?

Why, it’s almost as if they can’t be trusted.

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