After Sexual Misconduct Claims, Vegas Mogul Steve Wynn Fell Fast

March 15, 2018

Every person who has seen the Las Vegas strip in the last three decades has experienced Steve Wynn’s impact. The 1989 grand opening of his brainchild, the Mirage resort and casino, ushered an era of excitement and creativity into an otherwise stagnating tourism industry, and set the example the strip still follows. The Mirage property was unprecedented in its size and upscale show offerings, but the design of the building itself was groundbreaking; this was the first time Las Vegas had seen a casino function as a carefully designed sensory experience.

“From the moment you walked into the Mirage … you knew this wasn’t just a glorified slot machine warehouse. [Wynn] was passionate about every square inch of the facilities,” says Bo Bernhard, executive director of the International Gaming Institute. “Prior to that, there hadn’t been a major opening on the strip for something like 20 years. And this was such an imaginative leap forward that it really changed aspirations, of not only the industry but the city.”

At the beginning of January 2018, Wynn was a 75-year-old billionaire, chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts, Ltd., working on a developing a $2.6 billion resort in Massachusetts. By the beginning of February 2018, Wynn would be unemployed, facing public shame and an uncertain future.

After the Mirage success, Wynn cemented his status as a tourism industry tycoon by leaving his mark on several casino-resorts, from the Las Vegas strip to Atlantic City to Macau. “He was a business killer. An imagineer-leader for his generation,” says Bernhard. “There were plenty of innovators in earlier generations, but of this generation, his role was an imagineer in the same way that a Walt Disney or a Steve Jobs was seen as an imagineer atop their perches.”

In the recent wave of high-profile men being exposed and ousted after accusations of sexual misconduct, Steve Wynn’s is the first story to center on the CEO of a major publicly held company. According to Catherine MacKinnon, a legal scholar on sexual harassment, Wynn’s story stands apart from others because “his financial and professional tentacles reach further and are more substantial than most.”

Here’s a timeline of the fallout so far:

January 26: The Wall Street Journal publishes allegations of harassment and rape

The Wall Street Journal publishes disturbing — and at times graphic — allegations of Steve Wynn’s sexual misconduct against Wynn Resorts employees over decades. Included are accusations of sexual harassment, coercion, indecent exposure, and an alleged sexual assault case he paid $7.5 million to settle. Many of the allegations were made by salon and spa employees at the Wynn Las Vegas, the luxury resort where Wynn primarily resides.

Wynn says in a statement that the idea he ever assaulted any woman is “preposterous,” and “… we find ourselves in a world where people can make allegations, regardless of the truth, and a person is left with the choice of weathering insulting publicity or engaging in multi-year lawsuits. It is deplorable for anyone to find themselves in this situation.” Wynn goes on to blame his ex-wife, Elaine Wynn, for instigating the accusations to aid her case in a revised divorce settlement.

Wynn Resorts’ stock begins to plummet in the U.S., and trading of it is suspended in Hong Kong.

January 27: Wynn resigns as RNC finance chair

After an evening of outcry from political commentators and the Democratic National Committee, Wynn resigns as finance chair of the Republican National Committee, a position he’d had for almost a year. The RNC announces it will not return any of the donations until his guilt is admitted or proven, but several representatives — including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Dean Heller, D-Nev., and the Republican Governors Association — return or donate financial contributions from Wynn. The RNC will continue to receive criticism about its silence on Wynn due to the stark contrast from its reaction to allegations against Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein, which included a multimedia campaign urging Democratic representatives to return his financial contributions.

January 30: Nevada Gaming Control Board launches investigation

The Nevada Gaming Control board announces an investigation into Steve Wynn’s conduct. The strict regulatory authority consists of three full-time appointees and has the power to assess fines, revoke licenses, and halt commercial activity. Chairwoman Becky Harris — only a week into her tenure and the first woman to occupy the role — promises the investigation will be “thorough and judicious.” Soon, the volume of Wynn-related phone calls will prompt the board to launch a page on its website to collect investigation tips.

A similar investigation is opened by the Gaming Commission in Massachusetts, where Wynn Resorts is building a resort expected to open in 2019. Commission Chairman Steve Crosby attempts to reassure community members by saying, “everybody who’s got jobs in Everett should go about their business and feel fine … This is not the first time that there have been allegations against major players in the casino business.”

February 1: University of Pennsylvania rescinds honorary degree

“The nature, severity, and extent of these allegations, and the patterns of abusive behavior they describe” spurs leadership at University of Pennsylvania to reverse the stance it took in 2015, when it announced, “it is not our practice to rescind honorary degrees” in response to sexual assault allegations made against Bill Cosby. Trustees unanimously decide to revoke honorary degrees from both Wynn and Cosby, and to remove Wynn’s name from a scholarship and campus plaza he had funded in 1995. At the time of the decision, students had already vandalized the plaza to cover Wynn’s name and were planning a protest.

February 6: Wynn leaves Wynn Resorts, Ltd.

Wynn resigns as chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts (this includes properties in Las Vegas, Macau, and a developing one near Boston). Sticking with the original statement declaring his innocence, he cites his reason for leaving being “an avalanche of negative publicity” creating an environment in which he could not continue to be effective.

February 7: The beginning of shareholder lawsuits

The first of at least five retirement funds files a shareholder derivative lawsuit against the board of Wynn resorts, claiming members of the board knew of allegations about Steve Wynn’s sexual misconduct as early as 2009 and breached fiduciary duty by failing to inform investors.

These suits soon begin to pile up, with complainants ranging from a Pennsylvania-based pension fund to the state of Oregon.

February 16: Severance pay denied

Wynn Resorts, Ltd. files a report with the SEC declaring: Steve Wynn will receive no severance pay; his administrative support will end in May; the lease of his personal residence at the Wynn Las Vegas will end in June, and he agrees not to compete against the company for two years. Not mentioned in the report is that Wynn retained a 12 percent share (worth about $2.6 billion) in the company.

February 22: Law firms seek class action plaintiffs

At least three law firms begin seeking investors in Wynn Resorts, Ltd. for a class action lawsuit against the board for its failure to report Steve Wynn’s alleged sexual misconduct resulting in losses and damages for shareholders.

February 26: Insider trading accusations

The New York State comptroller, acting on behalf of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, claims the Wynn Resorts executive vice president and five members of the board of directors engaged in insider trading when they sold nearly $20 million in company stock while aware of the sexual misconduct allegations against Steve Wynn.

February 27: New allegations reported

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports on new police reports by women in Las Vegas and Chicago, respectively. One woman tells police she felt coerced into a sexual relationship with Wynn in the 1970s, and was forced to resign from her job at Wynn Resorts when she refused to continue engaging in sexual activity. The other says she was raped by Wynn in the early 1970s, became pregnant, and gave birth to his child in a gas station bathroom. Both women’s cases fall outside of the statute of limitations.

February 28: Massachusetts citizens speak out

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is being flooded with calls to drop Wynn’s name from the Wynn Boston Harbor, a $2.4 billion property still in development. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Gov. Charlie Baker exert their influence as well; Healey tells the Boston Herald, “If what’s being alleged is true … the casino cannot bear Wynn’s name.” Representatives from the Wynn are resistant to the change, claiming the brand signifies more than any one man.

The week of March 6: Masseuses and manicurists seek justice

Two massage therapists file civil complaints against Wynn for intentional misconduct, alleging coercion into sex despite repeated objections, and intimidation with large security dogs. A third complaint filed by a manicurist on March 6 claims he continued to harass employees after the initial allegations were published by entering the salon at the Wynn hotel — where he continues to reside — and asking employees to raise their hands if they’d felt abused or assaulted by him. When no one raised their hands, Wynn allegedly returned to the salon with video equipment and pressured employees to participate in a video recording denying any assault or abuse.

March 7: New CEO reassures stakeholders after board shakeups

Two of nine board members announce their plans to leave the board. Newly appointed CEO Matt Maddox tells investors the board plans to “expand and refresh its ranks” and focuses on the company’s strengths, such as the revenue of the Macau properties, which grew 27 percent in January and February.

What’s next

Excluding the class action suits, which are likely to be joined together, Steve Wynn is facing at least three lawsuits and the Wynn board of directors is facing at least six. Wynn continues to own a 12 percent share of Wynn Resorts, worth around $2.6 billion. Wynn continues to live at the Wynn hotel, but is no longer allowed to use the salon and spa.

Khalon Richard is an intern on NPR’s Research & Insight team.

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