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Wynn defends IGT’s embattled ex-chairman Mathewson

A blistering attack last week on International Gaming Technology’s former chairman by the slot machine manufacturer’s current management brought a spirited defense Monday morning from another gaming icon – Steve Wynn.

The chairman of Wynn Resorts Ltd. defended former IGT Chairman Charles Mathewson “as a man of wide perspective and vision.”

Mathewson is fighting to regain a seat on the company’s board in a proxy fight in which he has enlisted the help of analyst-turned-investor Jason Ader.

In a lengthy letter to shareholders Friday, IGT attempted to dispute claims raised by Ader and Mathewson against the company in their quest to gain election to three seats on IGT’s eight-person board.

In the letter, IGT personally attacked Mathewson, 84, who spent 17 years as chairman and CEO of the slot machine giant and is widely credited with building the company into an industry leader.

“Mathewson engaged in questionable compensation practices, expected IGT to fund his lavish lifestyle, and exerted his influence over the board long after retiring as chairman in 2003,” current IGT Chairman Phil Satre and CEO Patti Hart wrote to shareholders.

“Further, despite having amassed enormous personal wealth over the course of his tenure at IGT, Mr. Mathewson expected IGT’s shareholders to continue funding his lavish lifestyle after his retirement from the Board. IGT shareholders reimbursed Mr. Mathewson and his personal staff for numerous perquisites, benefits and expenses.”

In the letter, IGT said it paid for Mathewson’s staff, office space and personal expenses, including $12,000 for fitness training and $400,000 for multiple country club memberships.

IGT has said previously that Mathewson and Ader want to bring an “outmoded” business model to the company.

On Monday, Wynn issued a statement through a Wynn Resorts spokesman defending Mathewson, saying he has known Mathewson as a businessman and friend for 30 years. Wynn said his casinos bought slot machines from IGT during Mathewson’s years as chairman and CEO.

“I am personally saddened by what appears to be a paid professional attempt to smear him,” Wynn said. “I’m left with the impression that such an effort is motivated by IGT’s current management’s attempt to distract shareholder attention from current performance.”

Wynn did not take a stand on the IGT proxy fight.

“People who worked for (Mathewson) held him in the highest regard, as did every major company in the gaming industry with whom he dealt so successfully,” Wynn said.

IGT also stated that Mathewson received backdated stock options to obtain almost $2.8 million.

Mathewson released his own statement late Friday, saying he was “disappointed in the misleading and untruthful personal attacks that IGT leveled against me.”

He called IGT’s comments “a weak attempt to divert attention away from poor management decisions.”

Mathewson and Ader are soliciting proxy votes from company shareholders in order to gain three seats on IGT’s board. The group controls 3 percent of IGT’s outstanding shares.

IGT’s annual shareholder meeting is scheduled for March 5 at the Canyon Gate Country Club.

Shares of IGT closed at $15.24 on the New York Stock Exchange Monday, down 31 cents or 1.99 percent.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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