The house always wins. They know that in Las Vegas. But in Massachusetts, well, not so much.
And right now the Massachusetts Gaming Commission — which faces a $2.6 billion decision on the Wynn Resorts Casino rising in Everett — is playing the game like a bunch of country rubes.
The commission, which has been letting its staff and investigators basically run the show for months, is desperately in need of a dose of courage, common sense, and adrenaline. It’s also in need of a fifth commissioner – a post that has remained vacant since the September resignation of board chairman Steve Crosby.
The commission’s investigation into the conduct of former casino magnate Steve Wynn, and what corporate leaders and board members knew about allegations of sexual misconduct by the man whose name rides high above the Las Vegas Strip, has been going on for nearly a year. Release of that report – promised first in September, then October, then December – has now been halted by a lawsuit filed by Steve Wynn in Las Vegas. The processes of the Gaming Commission — at least as far as the Wynn investigation is concerned — have gone from deliberative to dilatory.
Meanwhile Wynn Resorts, which still plans on a June 2019 opening for the renamed Encore Boston Harbor casino, is intent on making the case that the Steve Wynn era, with its allegations of sexual misconduct and subsequent cover-ups, is over.
With the exception of Wynn Resorts CEO Matthew Maddox, all of the board members and exeuctives who were associated with the company when it got the Massachusetts license are gone. “It’s about us now,” Maddox told the Globe editorial board on Tuesday. “Do we move forward?”
Moving forward has, of course, been made considerably more difficult by the lawsuit filed earlier this month by Steve Wynn in Las Vegas, charging that the company he once ran has since turned over “scores of documents reflecting communications protected by Mr. Wynn’s attorney-client privilege.” The suit also alleges that the Gaming Commission and its chief investigator, Karen Wells, “has flagrantly invaded and/or attempted to invade Mr. Wynn’s attorney-client privileges and common interest protected communications when questioning various individuals as part of its investigation.”
But as attorneys for the Gaming Commission argued in a court filing, protracted litigation “will almost certainly result in a delay in opening the gaming establishment, in turn delaying 4,500 full-time job opportunities, and depriving [Massachusetts] of millions of dollars in tax revenue each month.”
It didn’t have to come to this. Wynn Resorts handed over its voluminous internal report on the allegations against Steve Wynn back in August, the same time they turned it over to the Nevada Gaming Commission, which is expected to issue its findings before the end of the year. That document could have been turned over to the Massachusetts commissioners at the time. It apparently wasn’t. Nor have the commissioners been given a look at the long-promised work product of its own investigation — a probe estimated to cost well over $1 million. And until the commissioners get a copy, it will not become a public document.
That leads to two possible conclusions: (1) either the commissioners are the least curious public officials on the planet or (2) they have become captives of their own staff. Neither is acceptable.
That gets back to the role of Governor Charlie Baker in all this — and his failure now post-election to name that crucial fifth member of the commission and a possible tie-breaking vote on the future ownership of the Everett casino. One thing even the Wynn Resorts team acknowledges is that theirs is an industry that needs certainty. But right now, uncertainty is what they — and the taxpayers of Massachusetts — are getting. Baker can and must help fix that now.