Why a $20m fine looks like a Wynn win

Is Nevada sanction a preview of Mass. action?

WYNN RESORTS WAS HIT with $20 million fine yesterday by Nevada casino regulators, by far the largest sanction ever handed down there — and the company’s honchos were probably high-fiving each other afterwards, letting out sighs of relief that reached all the way to Everett 2,700 miles away.

Such is the strange world of gambling, where things are often not on the level or as they appear to be. The fine was slapped on Wynn for failing to investigate earlier claims of sexual misconduct against company founder Steve Wynn, who resigned last year amidst a swirl of controversy over charges he sexually harassed and assaulted women.

While the penalty was a hefty one, it still represented a slap on wrist compared to the worst case scenario for Wynn — lowering the boom and revoking the company’s Nevada license. The question now is whether it’s also a sign of what’s in store for Wynn here in Massachusetts.

In light of the allegations that surfaced last year concerning Steve Wynn, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is reviewing the company’s suitability to retain the license it was granted for a casino in Everett. A $2.6 billion gambling palace is rising along the Mystic River and scheduled to open in June, but state regulators will have the final say on that.

The commission ordered an investigation to understand who in the company knew what about the allegations against its former CEO, but that has been tied up in litigation Steve Wynn filed charging that some documents investigators may have obtained are protected by attorney-client privilege and should not be publicly released. Last week, the gaming commission voted to direct its lawyers to settle the suit with Steve Wynn.

In an editorial last week, the Globe ripped the commission’s vote — which followed a closed-door discussion — saying it means even the commissioners may not have access to some documents, a fact that “will turn the board’s eventual ruling on Wynn Resort’s fitness into a farce.”

The editorial lamented the fact that it seemed likely the commission would follow Nevada regulators’ playbook and level a fine against the company but allow it to retain its license here.

But that was before Attorney General Maura Healey weighed in. In comments yesterday on WGBH radio, the AG said she is not foreclosing the possibility that her office will get involved in the final licensing matter. “I think there is and will be a role for our office, though it depends on what the report ultimately says,” said Healey, who was an outspoken opponent of introducing casino gambling to Massachusetts.

She expressed concern about the commission not having access to all documents from the Wynn investigation, and she warned that the gambling panel should not feel undue pressure to act quickly because of the scheduled opening date for Wynn’s Encore Boston Harbor casino.

“They need to do their job, they need to do it well and to do it right, and I don’t care that a building’s been built,” Healey said. “The fact that this structure is built or near-built should not be what drives the decision-making of the commission.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Her comments drew praise from Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld, who said “it sounds like she’s not afraid to take on Wynn and possibly even prevent Encore from opening if an investigation finds that Wynn hid sexual abuse reports by its former CEO in order to snag a coveted gaming license.”

As for what Healey might ultimately do if she concludes the gambling commission made an ill-considered rush to judgment, that’s anyone’s bet.