The last time a casino license for Wynn Resorts was on the line in Massachusetts, Steve Wynn was front and center, and Bill Weld — the former Republican governor who’s now mulling a run at President Trump — sat right beside him as his lawyer.
That was then. Today, Wynn is out as CEO, after facing multiple charges of sexual assault and misconduct, which he denies. Weld is pursuing a more personal political gamble. And Wynn Resorts is battling to keep its license, while keeping some distance from ML Strategies, the marquis lobbying firm that lists Weld as a principal and helped to shepherd the casino company through the Massachusetts regulatory process.
“ML still represents Wynn Resorts,” said Michael Weaver, chief communications officer for Wynn Resorts. But, according to Weaver, when Wynn Resorts goes back before the Gaming Commission, the presenters will be Matt Maddox, the new CEO; Phil Satre, the new board chairman; and Ellen Whittemore, the new chief legal counsel. And “outside counsel, which would not be ML. I don’t anticipate ML would have a role in the hearing process,” said Weaver.
He identified Wynn Resorts’ outside counsel as attorneys with Brown Rudnick, a Boston firm, and Fox Rothschild, a national firm with offices in Las Vegas.
It’s another way to put a fresh face on a company very much identified with the one disgraced by Steve Wynn. The company has replaced most of its board and says executives who knew about Wynn’s alleged sexual misconduct, but did nothing, are gone. Of those currently listed as “qualifiers” for the Massachusetts casino license, just two are holdovers from the original license application: Maddox and Elaine Wynn, the former wife of Steve Wynn, who is now the company’s largest private shareholder. She’s not currently on Weaver’s list of expected presenters to gaming regulators — an omission that means she won’t be publicly asked what she and others knew about Steve Wynn’s conduct.
ML Strategies was credited with holding Steve Wynn’s hand during the licensing process while flexing its political muscle on his behalf. Asked about the current relationship with Wynn Resorts, Stephen Tocco, ML’s chairman and CEO, said via e-mail, “I continue to be their general consultant and lobbyist. . . . I will remain involved throughout the process.” However, according to Tocco, Weld no longer has an official role with ML Strategies. He will take a formal leave of absence when he officially announces his presidential run, “likely in April,” said Tocco. Weld also took a leave in 2016 when he ran as vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket.
Weld is still registered as a lobbyist with the secretary of state’s office. But with Wynn, he said he was working as an attorney “on the Mintz Levin side of the house” and billed for his time by the hour. Last October, Weld said he would again be “front and center” at upcoming Wynn license hearings, as a lawyer representing Wynn MA LLC. Of course, that was before he publicly contemplated a challenge to Trump — and just as Steve Wynn filed a lawsuit against the Gaming Commission, its chief investigator, and Wynn Resorts.
The lawsuit delayed the start of hearings that will ultimately lead to a decision about the future of the Everett casino, which Wynn Resorts won the license to operate in 2014. After The Wall Street Journal broke the story about Wynn, Massachusetts investigators were dispatched to find out what they missed the first time: who in the company knew about Wynn’s behavior. When it finally gets those findings, the Gaming Commission will then decide whether a supposedly transformed Wynn Resorts is “suitable” to keep its license. It comes on the watch of a new Gaming Commission chair, Cathy Judd-Stein, who was appointed by Governor Charlie Baker — who was a member of Weld’s cabinet when he was governor.
Better for the fresh faces of Wynn Resorts to make their case without any old faces associated with Steve Wynn sitting next to them.