At Wynn Resorts, they still do it Steve's way

I don’t know whether Steve Wynn can sing a lick, but when he called Monday, he sounded a little like his old friend Frank Sinatra crooning “My Way.”

Regrets, he has a few.

But then again, too few to mention.

The touchy subject was Wynn’s controversial dealer tip-sharing policy, which after several years of legal wrangling was recently decided in his favor at the Nevada Supreme Court.

Not surprisingly, he didn’t like my opinion of his decision to create a policy at Wynn Las Vegas that redistributed a portion of the dealers’ tips to other floor personnel traditionally not included in the toke pool. The fact that his decision came after his casino opened made the timing even more ham-handed.

He appeared to care even less for my repeating excerpts of a 2006 meeting with his dealers in which he seemed to go on at substantial length to apologize for the way his policy was implemented. The dealers were on the verge of voting for union representation, in no small part because of the tip-pooling decision.

“What I regretted was that I didn’t do it before we opened, which was the right thing to do and was the mistake,” Wynn said Monday.

He said, “It was an apology for ordering it after the fact.”

Which, I think, the tape makes pretty clear. Wynn was understandably distracted during the hectic run-up to the opening of his Macau casino property when the tip-pooling issue blew up in Las Vegas. As he recalls it, he discussed the issue during lunch in the coffee shop of his Macau casino with visiting labor executives from the Service Employees International Union and International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. Their advice was unanimous: Return to Las Vegas with metaphorical hat in hand and apologize to a roomful of disgruntled dealers.

He did just that.

The dealers weren’t moved by his speech. They would vote to unionize, but Wynn rightly reminds me that the 10-year union contract includes the tip-sharing provision. In the end, he got his way and a decade-long deal to boot.

Ironically, the dilemma swirled out of the success of the casino. The tip pool, he said, was millions larger than anticipated. That put the dealers’ pay far out of kilter with the paychecks received by floor personnel.

Despite the turmoil and the protracted litigation, Wynn says the company’s dealers are the best paid on the Strip at more than $250 per day on average. And he also says his dealers are happy.

Although Wynn didn’t exactly spell it out, after 47 years in the business he obviously knows the importance of keeping his dealers in a positive mindset. They are on the front line of customer relations and are more important to the atmosphere of a casino than the lighting and wallpaper. At one point he offered, “Only a damn fool would destabilize employees.”

Yes, my thought exactly. That’s why the timing of the rule change seemed so unlike Wynn, whose career has been marked by undeniable success. With some exceptions, he has been the industry’s smooth operator.

But my ears weren’t fooling me. That was Wynn’s voice on the tape. The transcript was accurate, he said. He said what he said, and at the time appeared to mean what he said. Then successfully litigated after what he said didn’t settle the problem.

As for renaming his floor personnel team leaders, Wynn says the casino floor relationship isn’t one of supervision so much as shared effort. Like “busboys and the waiters,” he said.

“They don’t have any hiring or firing capacity,” Wynn said. “They’re just service people, and that’s what they always were.”

Admittedly, it’s been some years since I was a busboy at the old Nevada Hotel downtown. But I sure don’t remember the waitresses treating me like an equal.

As you can see, times have changed — at least at Wynn’s resorts, where they always do it Steve’s way.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.