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Fontainebleau counterclaim against Wynn got nasty in a hurry

Updated March 24, 2024 - 8:05 am

The Fontainebleau court response to Wynn’s lawsuit over the new resort interfering with existing or potential contractual relations by poaching Wynn employees has devolved into a gang fight.

“Well, that has gotten real nasty real fast,” I. Nelson Rose emailed me last week after I asked him to have a look at Fontainebleau’s court response and counterclaim to Wynn’s Feb. 29 lawsuit in Clark County District Court.

“I am only on paragraph 16 and I am not sure I will read any more,” said Rose, a Utah State University professor who also writes the “Gambling and the Law” blog.

“It is interesting to watch, like a car crash, but only from a distance,” he said of Wynn v. Fontainebleau.

Paragraph 16 is where the Fontainebleau counterclaim against Wynn sinks to its lowest depths.

That’s where Fontainebleau’s attorneys chose to embed a screen shot of texts between Fontainebleau CEO Jeff Soffer and Wynn CEO Craig Billings into the court document.

Billings was obviously annoyed with having to deal with Fontainebleau persistently offering jobs to his executives despite them being under contract with one-year non-compete clauses.

Text exchange

While the text exchange is undated, it appears to have occurred after Wynn and Fontainebleau had gone back and forth on the propriety of Fontainebleau offering executive positions to Wynn officials and finally coming to an agreement that Fontainebleau would stop doing it. But the practice never stopped.

“Craig, please give me a call at your convenience. Thanks,” the exchange began.

Billings told Soffer he was vacationing, but his frustration boiled over when referencing one of Soffer’s subordinates.

“On holiday in Europe with my family who are very important to me. Have devoted enough time to this already at the expense of my wife and daughter. Will call you when I’m back.

“Like you. But your guy is a f- - -ing rank amateur. He hasn’t operated a lemonade stand, much less a complex operation like you’re about to open. He’s running around ham fistedly trying to poach people under contract, which is a surefire way to turn the town against you. Rein him in to stop the damage he’s doing to your business.

“I’d like to see you succeed but I’m not gonna take s- - - from an arrogant newcomer like your boy.”

To which Soffer responded, “Craig, Your facts are all wrong to (sic) to clear the air. As I told you many times before we are not interested in any of your employees that are under contract. Enjoy your vacation with your family. Hopefully you can find time to give me a call. I don’t think it’s in your best interest to have (sic) are relationship start like this. All the best, Jeff.”

The response came in two parts.

“My facts are not wrong. Speak soon.”

“And he’s 86’d for good. He should feel free to reciprocate.”

That means whoever Billings was referring to is banned from the Wynn property.

Fontainebleau used the exchange to take a dig at Wynn and Billings.

‘Lack of dignity’

“As FBDev and FBLV have now come to know from subsequent interactions, Billings demonstrated a disturbing lack of dignity and judgment normally exhibited by CEOs of publicly traded companies,” the counterclaim said.

Rose said putting the text exchange in the lawsuit proves the merits of the advice he often gives his own students: “Don’t put anything in writing, especially emails, unless you are willing to see it on the front page of the newspaper and shown to a jury.

“I don’t like snarky language and writing legal pleadings as press releases,” Rose said. “The inevitable result of this counterclaim by Fontainebleau will be an equally nasty response from Wynn.”

He found it remarkable that both sides had an amicable relationship when Fontainebleau executives first came to Las Vegas and stayed at the Wynn when construction was underway at Fontainebleau. According to the counterclaim, Fontainebleau officials spent more than $1 million to stay at Wynn over two years and it was then that relationships grew and Wynn employees began acting on the thought of taking similar jobs for more money at Fontainebleau.

“It looks like both were friendly and professional,” Rose said. “I don’t know if there is more behind this story. But it reads more like a divorce than a business lawsuit.”

Wynn says the bottom line is that Fontainebleau interfered with Wynn contracts.

“We believe Fontainebleau engaged in that practice because we believe they lack the ability to develop, and based upon numerous recent news reports, to retain talent,” Wynn officials said in a statement released after the counterclaim was filed. “They cannot solve these widely reported problems by encouraging employees to break the lawful employment contacts they have negotiated with other employers.”

How will it be resolved? Possibly by settlement, possibly in a must-watch trial.

Rose believes that, like 93 percent of these types of cases, it will be settled.

It’s rare but fascinating to see Strip megaresorts duke it out publicly, but it remains to be seen which side will be most damaged.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on X.

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