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Wynn shoots himself in the foot with bid to redistribute dealers’ tips

Steve Wynn once shot off his index finger while playing with a pistol.

You’d think he would have learned his lesson.

Last September, Wynn fooled with the wrong end of another gun when he forced his dealers to share their tokes with floor supervisors.

Bang. That’ll show those dealers.

But in no time, it was Wynn who was doing the bleeding. Not at his lusty bottom line, but in the image department.

Like workers in some gaudy gulag, Wynn Las Vegas dealers were warned not to speak with the press after the change. When they did, some media scolds chided them for being ungrateful.

I’ve rarely seen such journalistic fretting about what working people earn. Breathless stories of dealers making up to $100,000 a year — most of that in tokes, mind you, for their hourly wage is a pittance — made them appear greedy and ungrateful.

I’ll let others measure the depth of the dealers’ gratitude. In a business that celebrates greed, one that finds casino operators scoring insane salaries and scooping up gargantuan net profits, how anyone can criticize the dealers for battling to hang onto their tips is beyond me.

Last, the card pitchers were warned against attempting to organize.

Over the weekend, they voted by an overwhelming majority to do just that, electing to invite the New York-based Transport Workers Union of America to negotiate with management on their behalf. It was a decision that took real courage in the face of Wynn’s intimidating influence.

From the start, state bureaucrats and Wynn’s lawyers warned the dealers they had no legal standing. They were told to save their money and forget about litigation.

They didn’t listen.

They received only a partial hearing at the peoples’ Legislature after an Orwellian afternoon in which they weren’t allowed to mention the name of their billionaire boss. And yet they still refused to quit.

When they talked about organizing, they were reminded how quickly they could be replaced. Some, in fact, were replaced.

But as the months passed and Wynn’s profits from his Strip and Macau casinos were reported along with his own $6 million annual salary, the story began to refocus. Legalities and ethics aside, Wynn had robbed Peter the dealer to pay Paul the floor boss, and he looked bad doing it.

And looking bad is something Steve Wynn hates to do.

After 40 years in the casino racket, Wynn has made a vast fortune by being a good boss and by reminding people about all the class he brings to the Strip. But in one move the multibillionaire made himself look cheap. He "redistributed" the dealers’ tips without their consent, then tried to portray the dumb decision as an innovative business move. It was such a bright idea that not one major casino corporation endorsed it.

When the blue smoke and bullying failed, Wynn tried the direct approach. Addressing his dealers on the eve of the election, his tough-guy talk was replaced by the measured speech of a contrite father figure, who apologized for his mistake and expressed gratitude for all the dealers have meant to his success. He implored them to vote against the union and said, "I gotta be your guy in order for us to really get great."

It was taped and disseminated on the Internet.

Trouble is, the dealers’ guy screwed them out of a piece of their tips. Wynn should have rescinded his stupid policy before the unionization effort began. It probably would have derailed it.

Instead, he escalated a fight that can only hurt morale at his casino. Not many good-news stories are generated from union contract negotiations.

Wynn is a brilliant guy in many ways, but is there no one in his life who tells him when he’s full of baloney and headed in the wrong direction?

Over the years, Wynn has had a great relationship with his workers. Word of a new Wynn property opening sends a buzz of excitement through the casino worker subculture. People were genuinely thrilled to be part of his operations because they knew they’d be flying first class and making arguably the best tokes in the business.

Steve Wynn has blown his credibility with his people.

Now he’ll have to hustle to stanch the bleeding from his self-inflicted wound.

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

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