Back in 2013, when Steve Wynn came before the state Gaming Commission to argue that he was suitable to hold a Massachusetts casino license, the commission took all its normal steps to make the proceedings transparent. It posted the results of the commission’s suitability investigation online and streamed the proceedings on its website. Ultimately, the commission deemed the Las Vegas mogul and his company suitable, and later granted a license to build a casino in Everett.
That was then. On Tuesday, when the commission starts reconsidering the suitability of top Wynn Resorts executives, it won’t stream the hearing online. While it will make available copies of its new investigation, it won’t post the findings on the commission’s website. This from an agency that prides itself on being among the most transparent in state government.
These decisions might seem like small matters, but they highlight something bigger: fears that the commission’s second look into the firm’s suitability is more about going through the motions than conducting a true review.
Elaine Driscoll, the commission’s director of communications, told the Globe that “the decision to not broadcast the hearing or issue the report over the Internet is pursuant to the advice of legal counsel,” but declined to provide a copy of the lawyer’s explanation.
The reexamination of suitability began last year after The Wall Street Journal published an exposé on allegations of sexual misconduct against Wynn, the company’s founder and namesake. Although Wynn denies the misconduct, he resigned from the company. But that didn’t end its troubles. Gaming regulators want to know whether top executives were aware of the accusations, and if so, whether they responded appropriately. Holders of casino licenses in Massachusetts have to be suitable, and if executives failed to act on serious allegations, that could cause commissioners to decide they are no longer fit. Regulators in Nevada fined the company $20 million for their handling of the allegations against Wynn, but let the company keep its gambling license; Massachusetts regulators have to make their own call.
Even before the decision not to stream the hearing, the commission has made some disappointing calls during the Wynn review. To settle a lawsuit filed by Steve Wynn, the commission agreed to receive a redacted version of their own investigation into Wynn Resorts, meaning they’ll make a suitability determination with less-than-complete information.
Of course, back in 2013, Wynn was just an applicant, and the Everett casino existed only on paper. Now it is slated to open in June, and is hiring employees, accepting hotel reservations, and getting ready to send millions of dollars in tax revenue to the state. If the commission had decided Wynn Resorts wasn’t suitable in 2013, the company would have objected; if it does it now, thousands of workers, their families, and their elected officials will too.
Critics of casino gambling warned of just this possibility when the Legislature was considering legalizing gaming in 2011. No matter how strict regulators promise to be at the outset, once the dollars start to flow, all the power shifts to the industry. Now the burden is on the commission to show it can be just as tough with a casino company that already has a license as it can with a fresh-faced applicant.