Wynns at war? We’ve seen this movie before

Steve and Elaine are going at it again, and the walls are painfully thin.

When the Wynns go to war, it makes front-page news. Their quarrels echo from Las Vegas Boulevard all the way to Wall Street.

Some will cover their eyes. Others won’t be able to look away. I’m struck by a sense of cinematic deja vu.

That is to say, I think we’ve seen this movie before.

For some, the idea of a protracted civil battle pitting Wynn Resorts Chairman and CEO Steve Wynn against his former wife Elaine Wynn is a dark comedy featuring what was once the pre-eminent Vegas power couple. After decades spent influencing everything from style on the Strip to the president of the university, their postmarital feud might generate laughs if it weren’t so mean-spirited.

For others, Wynn v. Wynn litigation is a legal drama. Working title: “The Wynns of War.” It’s sort of “Kramer vs. Kramer,” only with the custody battle focused on a multibillion-dollar casino empire instead of a cute little kid.

Seldom lacking for a pointed retort, Steve Wynn described the former Mrs. Wynn’s Monday counterclaim that he’d been a reckless steward of the company as something straight out of “The War of the Roses,” another divorce-themed movie.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Wynn predicted trouble ahead for his former leading lady. “There will be comeuppance for that as you will see shortly,” he said. “I’ve tried everything under the sun to help out, and nothing has worked. That’s not unusual in the world of divorces.”

But despite the couple’s 2010 divorce, it’s unwise to reduce Elaine Wynn’s latest legal salvo to such unflattering and simplistic terms. It’s not really a Vegas version of a breakup movie. She isn’t simply a woman scorned by an ex-husband who quickly remarried. Billions of dollars and the fate of a major casino corporation potentially hang in the balance.

Not only is her 9.4 percent of Wynn Resorts worth approximately $900 million according to published reports, but her attempt to wrest control of those shares from her ex-husband is bound to win her some allies. The idea of a former spouse controlling decisions involving her stock seems downright chauvinistic.

“Elaine Wynn wants what is rightfully hers,” her spokesman said in a statement. “She is extremely concerned based upon her well-founded knowledge of the company about the lack of corporate governance that has been rampant at the company.”

If that’s the case, such excesses ought to be easy enough to catalog. And it wouldn’t be the first time Steve Wynn had been accused of running his company like a personal kingdom.

But it’s still hard to imagine they’ll really be willing to go to the mattresses and potentially place the company at risk.

And even if Elaine Wynn inflicts a lot of pain, does it mean she’ll prevail in the long run? Legal challenges aside, it could be hard to convince anyone she hasn’t understood the rules of the game.

At least, that’s the angle Steve Wynn is working. She endorsed the original shareholder agreement and reaffirmed it at the time of the divorce, Wynn said through a representative. “Ms. Wynn was a member of the Board of Directors of Wynn Resorts until last year. She never raised these issues, some of which are over a decade old, with her fellow directors during her 13 years of service.

“This lawsuit is filled with lies and distortions and is an embarrassment to Ms. Wynn and her counsel. This is simply an attempt to inflict personal pain on Mr. Wynn.”

Ah, but then he went on to inflict a little pain of his own.

“What particularly saddens Mr. Wynn among the many falsehoods is the assertion that Mr. Wynn’s estate planning does not provide for his daughters and grandchildren. This is untrue in every sense of the word and is a shocking allegation for a mother to make concerning family.”

Wicked dialogue and dramatic lighting aside, it’s important to remember that the latest episode of Wynn v. Wynn isn’t really about a divorce or whether the kids receive their inheritance.

This is Las Vegas. It’s about the money.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Contact him at 702-383-0295 or jsmith@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

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