Massachusetts commission to air probe of Wynn Resorts' casino license

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Encore Boston Harbor’s website was accepting “opening night” hotel room bookings Thursday, a 650-square-foot “Premier King,” a single, available for $777.

Opening night in Everett, Mass., the site said, is June 23 — less than three months away.

But, rather implausibly, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission must first decide whether the owner of the $2.6 billion resort casino, Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts, is worthy of the gaming license the commission granted it in 2014 — years before a sexual-misconduct scandal came to light, forcing Steve Wynn, the company’s former chairman, to resign.

The commission has set a so-called adjudicatory hearing to re-examine Wynn Resorts’ “suitability” for Tuesday and expects the hearing to continue Wednesday and Thursday, perhaps longer. Following the hearing, which will be held in public at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the five commissioners will deliberate privately and issue a written decision.

Mohegan Sun, which has been contesting the commission’s choice of Wynn Resorts since losing out in a two-way competition for the Boston-area casino license, will be among the interested parties. 

“The Mohegan Tribal Council always felt that our brand and incredible commitment to service and being part of the community was best for the Greater Boston region,” Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans’ chief of staff, said Thursday. “That position has not changed and we will be watching the process very closely.”

A lawsuit in which Mohegan Sun claims the commission acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” is on hold pending the outcome of the commission’s decision regarding Wynn’s suitability.

On Thursday, the commission released the official notice of next week’s hearing, at which the findings of an investigation conducted by the commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau will be released. Wynn Resorts has been directed to make more than a dozen current and former company executives available to answer questions raised in the report.

The notice lists a number of other issues the commission will probe, including whether Wynn Resorts abided by its own internal policies during the license-application process and whether any Wynn employees provided false or misleading information to the commission after the license was awarded. 

The commission’s review of Wynn Resorts’ suitability was prompted by The Wall Street Journal’s January 2018 report of allegations against Steve Wynn, including his 2005 payment of a $7.5 million out-of-court settlement to an employee who accused him of sexual misconduct. Gaming regulators in Nevada, where Wynn Resorts operates Las Vegas casinos, also investigated the company.

Last month, the Nevada Gaming Control Board levied a $20 million fine, the largest in its history, but allowed Wynn Resorts to keep operating.

In the view of one expert, the Massachusetts commissioners are likely to take similar action.

“They’ll probably follow Nevada’s lead,” said Clyde Barrow, a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who has studied Northeast gaming for decades. “If they find that all the people involved in Wynn’s situation, in terms of covering it up, are gone, and if they’re satisfied that Wynn Resorts has put in place policies, procedures and personnel to deal with these kinds of incidents in the future, they’re not going to revoke the license.”

If the commission does revoke the license, Barrow said, Wynn Resorts likely would have to put the casino up for sale.

“It would be hard for Wynn to get its money out. Everybody would see it as a distressed property," he said. "Then you’d have to re-vet the buyer. You’d delay the opening for 18 months.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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