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Steve Wynn, Nevada gaming regulators coming to a head this week

Top executives at Wynn Resorts Ltd. gave serious consideration to changing the name of the company when sexual harassment and assault allegations against co-founder Steve Wynn surfaced and led to him leaving the company.

Leaders acted swiftly in taking the Wynn name off the resort they were building in suburban Boston after some people there expressed outrage over the accusations. “Wynn Boston Harbor” quickly became “Encore Boston Harbor.”

Meanwhile, Steve Wynn steadfastly denied ever harassing or assaulting anyone, and regulators in Massachusetts and Nevada had yet to determine how they were going to deal with him.

Within four months of Wynn stepping down as chairman and CEO in February 2018 and divesting himself from the company a month later, Massachusetts regulators concluded they weren’t going to pursue action against him. Instead, they would focus its resources on determining when Wynn Resorts’ new management team and board of directors learned of the allegations and what, if anything, they did about them.

Because of Steve Wynn’s departure from the company, Massachusetts concluded he was no longer, in their terminology, a “qualifier” within the jurisdiction of that state’s regulators.

But Nevada regulators didn’t look at it that way.

‘Administrative hold’

It’s Nevada’s position that Wynn can’t surrender his gaming license until regulators say so.

His license and his suitability as a licensee are on “administrative hold,” and he remains subject to their scrutiny, Nevada regulators say.

This week the Nevada Gaming Commission is scheduled to conduct a hearing on a state Gaming Control Board complaint against Steve Wynn to ultimately determine whether he is in the regulators’ jurisdiction. On Thursday the five-member commission will take on the role of judge and jury in deciding whether Steve Wynn violated Nevada regulations and his suitability as a licensee with his alleged actions.

The Gaming Control Board first filed its five-count complaint against Steve Wynn on Oct. 14, seeking a fine from Wynn personally and a revocation of Wynn’s finding of suitability from the Nevada Gaming Commission that would likely prevent him from ever being licensed again by the state.

Steve Wynn and his attorneys have since traded back-and-forth responses with the Control Board.

Steve Wynn and his attorneys say the complaint is preposterous because Wynn, by stepping away as chairman, CEO and company investor, is no longer under the jurisdiction of Nevada regulators. They say he has no gaming license to surrender and there is nothing for regulators to revoke.

No one is expecting Steve Wynn to be present at Thursday’s hearing; doing so would lend credence to regulators’ belief that they still oversee and can punish him.

Should the commission conclude that Wynn is under their scrutiny and violated regulations, there are 19 guidelines for imposing penalties in disciplinary actions under Nevada Revised Statutes and the Control Board’s Regulation 7.

Relevant NRS statutes also list guidelines for fines — “not more than $100,000 for each separate violation of the provisions of this chapter …” That means a recommended fine for Steve Wynn could be up to $500,000 if the commission finds against him on all five counts.

Appeals possible

Statutes also provide for court appeals should the commission find in favor of the Control Board. Which means Thursday may not be the end of the Steve Wynn saga. It could drag on into next year and beyond with court appeals.

That leads back to the question of whether Wynn Resorts should change its name.

Within a couple of weeks of Steve Wynn’s resignation, the company conducted research among its customers and concluded that the vast majority of them had no idea who Steve Wynn is and what he was alleged to have done.

It appeared, they said, that his notoriety is greater among Southern Nevada residents, where he is widely credited as the man who forever changed the face of Las Vegas in the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s with themed megaresorts and properties filled with art, gourmet food, luxury and high-end amenities.

Changing the name and brand of Wynn Resorts could do more harm than good in attracting national and international customers to its properties, the company found.

“We determined that the company, as a brand, was bigger than one person,” spokesman Michael Weaver told me last week.

The company launched an affirmative plan — “We Are Wynn” — making it clear that the company’s employees worldwide make the company and not one individual.

After establishing that, the company abandoned the idea of changing the name.

But it’s a topic that’s bound to come up yet again this week after regulators have their say.

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

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