Maddox walks a tightrope

Maddox walks a tightrope

Calls Wynn brand strong even as he seeks name change for Everett casino

WYNN RESORTS CEO MATT MADDOX walked a tightrope on Friday before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, telling the commissioners that the Wynn brand remains strong after the departure of the company’s namesake while informing them that the firm would like to change the name of its Boston casino to Encore Boston Harbor due to “cultural sensitivity.”

Maddox appeared before the commission to make the case that Steve Wynn is no longer connected to Wynn Resorts, but he also used the occasion to suggest that the company is more than the casino legend.

“This company is not about a man. It hasn’t been about a man for 18 years,” he said, an apparent reference to when Wynn Resorts was founded, but that was in 2002. “I don’t want people to think Wynn the name is associated with the man. Yes, it is a man’s name, but it’s also a brand.”

The Gaming Commission is trying to decide whether Wynn Resorts, even without Steve Wynn, should be allowed to retain its Massachusetts casino license.  The agency’s investigation appears to be focusing on what company officials knew about Steve Wynn’s alleged sexual misconduct and what, if anything, they did about it. The probe is also focusing on the company’s financial future without its founder.

Maddox has indicated he might sell the Everett casino if he thought it could taint the firm’s operations in Las Vegas and Macau, but earlier this week and again on Friday he seemed to be pushing hard to retain the Massachusetts casino license. He also discounted talk of selling the company. “Nobody is going to buy us because people are nervous,” he said.

Maddox said he was selected as president of Wynn Resorts in 2013 with the expectation that he would become CEO in 2020, when Steven Wynn was expected to step down. The allegations of sexual misconduct against Steve Wynn moved up the transition to February, and now Maddox finds himself distancing the company from his mentor.

Wynn Resorts casino in Everett with the new Encore name.

Three women have been added to the board of directors; a third-party investigation has been launched into the company’s awareness and response to the allegations against Steve Wynn; and new policies on parental leave, gender equality, and sexual harassment have been implemented.

“There is no association with Steve Wynn. There is no business association with Steve Wynn,” Maddox said. “I’m my own man. Kim Sinatra is her own woman.” Sinatra is the company’s legal counsel and another close confidant of Steve Wynn.

Gayle Cameron, one of the commissioners, said the changes at Wynn Resorts are welcome, but she wondered how heartfelt they were. “The company as a whole didn’t value woman until they got in trouble,” she said.

Maddox, 42, pushed back against Cameron’s suggestion. He indicated he is different in outlook and philosophy than his 76-year-old predecessor. “We’re going to lead on gender equality. We’re going to lead on diversity. It’s something I’m committed to,” he said.

As president, Maddox said, he kept a list of things he wanted to do at Wynn Resorts, and then began acting on them when he took the top job. Stephen Crosby, the chairman of the Gaming Commission, asked Maddox what was on his list and what problems he felt he couldn’t tackle when Steve Wynn was in charge. Maddox responded that his list consisted mostly of long-running legal disputes the company had been involved in, all of which he moved to settle upon taking command.

Maddox did disclose that he had some difficulty with Steve Wynn when it came time for the company founder to unload his 12 million shares of stock. Maddox said he wanted an orderly sale of the stock, preferably to institutional, long-term investors and not hedge funds. But he said Wynn sold 4 million of his shares on the open market to hedge funds. “It was a really contentious day,” he said, adding that he arranged for the sale of the remaining 8 million shares to two major institutional investors.

Crosby said the anecdote about the stock sales appeared to suggest an at-times adversarial relationship between Maddox and Wynn. Sinatra said it hasn’t been easy. “It’s been difficult. It’s been very difficult,” she said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

After the hearing, the Gaming Commission retreated behind closed doors to rule on whether Steve Wynn should be removed as a Wynn Resorts qualifier – someone subject to the agency’s suitability standards. It appeared from Friday’s testimony that Steve Wynn no longer has any financial or managerial role at Wynn Resorts, but even if he is deemed to no longer be a qualifier, the license investigation is likely to continue.

Maddox told the Gaming Commission that the company has already changed and more changes are coming. “We’re listening, we’re paying attention, and we’re cooperating as best we can,” he said.