Wall Street Journal
Wynn Resorts employees and others described a CEO who sexualized his workplace and pressured workers to perform sex acts. Mr. Wynn responded: ‘The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous.’
By Alexandra Berzon, Chris Kirkham, Elizabeth Bernstein and Kate O’Keeffe
Updated Jan. 26, 2018 2:36 p.m. ET
Note: Wynn is building a $2.4 billion gambling resort along the Mystic River in Everett.
LAS VEGAS—Not long after the billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn opened his flagship Wynn Las Vegas in 2005, a manicurist who worked there arrived at the on-site salon visibly distressed following an appointment in Mr. Wynn’s office.
Sobbing, she told a colleague Mr. Wynn had forced her to have sex, and she repeated that to others later.
After she gave Mr. Wynn a manicure, she said, he pressured her to take her clothes off and told her to lie on the massage table he kept in his office suite, according to people she gave the account to. The manicurist said she told Mr. Wynn she didn’t want to have sex and was married, but he persisted in his demands that she do so, and ultimately she did disrobe and they had sex, the people remember her saying.
After being told of the allegations, the woman’s supervisor said she filed a detailed report to the casino’s human-resources department recounting the episode.
Mr. Wynn later paid the manicurist a $7.5 million settlement, according to people familiar with the matter.
The incident was referenced, in broad terms, in a lawsuit in which Mr. Wynn’s ex-wife, Elaine Wynn, seeks to lift restrictions on the sale of her stock in Wynn Resorts Ltd.WYNN -10.56% Attorneys for Mr. Wynn in a court filing admitted he made the personal payment; in a later hearing, his corporate attorney said there had been “allegations of assault.” Court records in the suit are heavily redacted. Specifics of the allegation and the size of the settlement haven’t been previously reported.
Beyond this incident, dozens of people The Wall Street Journal interviewed who have worked at Mr. Wynn’s casinos told of behavior that cumulatively would amount to a decadeslong pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Wynn. Some described him pressuring employees to perform sex acts.
In response to written questions about the manicurist’s and others’ allegations, Mr. Wynn said, “The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous.”
He continued, in a written statement, “We find ourselves in a world where people can make allegations, regardless of the truth, and a person is left with the choice of weathering insulting publicity or engaging in multi-year lawsuits. It is deplorable for anyone to find themselves in this situation.”
Mr. Wynn said that “the instigation of these accusations is the continued work of my ex-wife Elaine Wynn, with whom I am involved in a terrible and nasty lawsuit in which she is seeking a revised divorce settlement.” He said he remained focused on the company, its employees and its shareholders.
Ms. Wynn declined to speak to the Journal. An attorney for Ms. Wynn said the notion she instigated the Journal’s article “is just not true.”
Mr. Wynn didn’t provide further response to other allegations of sexual misconduct the Journal inquired about.
Wynn Resorts said it is committed to maintaining a safe and respectful culture, requires annual anti-harassment training for all, and offers an anonymous hotline. “Since the inception of the company, not one complaint was made to that hotline regarding Mr. Wynn,” the company said.
Mr. Wynn, turning 76 on Saturday, is a towering figure in Las Vegas and the wider gambling industry. As builder of the Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore casinos in Las Vegas—lavish, multiuse resorts with features such as artificial volcanoes, dancing fountains and French chefs—he brought a new level of sophistication and scale to the Strip.
Mr. Wynn no longer owns the Mirage, Treasure Island or Bellagio, but his empire now includes two casinos bearing his name in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau, and he is building a $2.4 billion Wynn casino in the Boston area. He is the chairman and chief executive of Wynn Resorts.
Dozens of powerful men have faced consequences in recent months after publicly aired accusations of sexual improprieties. Those against Mr. Wynn are the first in this wave to center on the CEO and founder of a major publicly held company, in this case one operating in a tightly regulated industry.
Mr. Wynn owns nearly 12% of Wynn Resorts, a stake worth $2.4 billion, and is considered integral to its success. His signature is the company logo. In a recent securities filing citing possible risks to the business, the company said, “If we lose the services of Mr. Wynn, or if he is unable to devote sufficient attention to our operations for any other reason, our business may be significantly impaired.”
Mr. Wynn’s political profile also has grown. He is a former casino-business rival of President Donald Trump, who said in 2016 that Mr. Wynn was a “great friend” whose advice he valued. After Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Wynn became the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman.
Mr. Wynn is a regular on his casino floors, known for a keen attention to details and what employees say is a temper that can flare when they fall short. He has frequently had services such as manicures, massages and makeup application performed in his on-site office at the Wynn Las Vegas.
The contrast between Mr. Wynn’s position and that of the salon and spa employees is stark. Former employees said their awareness of Mr. Wynn’s power in Las Vegas, combined with the knowledge that the jobs they held were among the best-paying available there, added up to a feeling of dependence and intimidation when Mr. Wynn made requests of them.
Some said that feeling was heightened at times by the presence in a confined office space of one or more of his German shepherds, trained to respond to commands in German.
The Journal contacted more than 150 people who work or had worked for Mr. Wynn; none reached out to the Journal on their own. Most of those who spoke to the Journal about Mr. Wynn said they worried that doing so could hurt their ability to work elsewhere because of his influence in the casino industry and the state.
Former employees said they sometimes entered fake appointments in the books to help other female workers get around a request for services in Mr. Wynn’s office or arranged for others to pose as assistants so they wouldn’t be alone with him. They told of female employees hiding in the bathroom or backrooms when they learned he was on the way to the salon.
“Everybody was petrified,” said Jorgen Nielsen, a former artistic director at the salon. Mr. Nielsen said he and others repeatedly told high-level company executives Mr. Wynn’s sexual advances were causing a problem, but “nobody was there to help us.”
One former massage therapist at the Wynn Las Vegas spa said that several years ago, when Mr. Wynn was booking multiple appointments a week with her in the private massage room in his office suite, he would continually adjust a towel to expose himself. Then at one session, she said, he threw it off and said, “Just get this thing off of me.”
She said he wouldn’t let her use a towel to cover his genitals after that, contrary to state licensing regulations, and he also began rubbing her leg while she massaged him.
After a few weeks, the former employee said, Mr. Wynn instructed her to massage his penis to climax. “Don’t ignore it anymore,” he said, according to her recollection. The woman said that because he was her boss, she felt she had no choice but to agree to some of Mr. Wynn’s requests, including that one. She said masturbating him became a frequent part of the massage sessions for several months.
At the end of each hourlong massage session, she said, he handed her $1,000 in cash, which was the same amount as before the sexual activity began.
In subsequent sessions, the woman said, Mr. Wynn asked her to perform oral sex on him and described in detail how he wanted it done. This request she refused, she said.
She said she didn’t tell anyone what happened at the time because she was embarrassed, adding she is still trying to deal with the incident emotionally. She did tell a colleague in a general way that Mr. Wynn had been inappropriate with her, that colleague recalled in an interview.
The colleague said she offered advice to the massage therapist—but didn’t mention that Mr. Wynn had also made advances toward her while she massaged him in his office’s private massage room. The colleague said in an interview Mr. Wynn would remove his towel and, while she massaged the front of his thighs, would tell her to “go higher,” which she understood to mean touch his genitals. She said she told him this made her uncomfortable, and then his requests for massages became less frequent.
Dennis Gomes, who was an executive at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas when Mr. Wynn was running that casino decades ago, said in a deposition in an early-1990s lawsuit that Mr. Gomes “routinely received complaints from various department heads regarding Wynn’s chronic sexual harassment of female employees,” according to a court filing that summarized his testimony.
In the suit over Mr. Gomes’s departure to work for a Trump casino, Mr. Gomes described what he called a “disgraceful pattern of personal and professional conduct” that he said included Mr. Wynn’s directing him to get the home phone numbers of casino cocktail waitresses.
Mr. Wynn denied the allegations in the suit in Nevada state court. The parties agreed to drop the suit in 1994.
Mr. Gomes died in 2012. His widow, Barbara Gomes, in an interview for this article, said, “I remember him saying, ‘I’m not his pimp,’ ” referring to Mr. Wynn.
Shawn Cardinal, who was a personal assistant to Elaine Wynn while she was married to Mr. Wynn, said that around 1987, Mr. Wynn repeatedly asked her to spend time with him outside of work. She said he continued asking, often approaching her at her desk outside his wife’s office, despite her telling him she had plans with her husband and child.
On the phone, he would ask, “What are you wearing? Why don’t you hang out with me after work?” said Ms. Cardinal. “I was not brave enough to say, ‘How dare you?’ I just joked my way out of it and I made sure I was never alone with him.”
Several former employees said Mr. Wynn often walked around some areas of the complex in extremely short shorts without underwear, and he would sit in the salon to get pedicures in such a way that his genitals were exposed.
One former employee said after she had performed services in Mr. Wynn’s office for years, one day he asked if he could kiss her. She said she laughed off the request, hoping to leave without upsetting him.
Another time, this employee said, she was performing services in her own workplace at the casino when Mr. Wynn said, “So when are you going to come into my office and f— me?”
She said that she again laughed off the proposition. “I would say, ‘Oh Mr. Wynn.’ ” she recalled. “I was just trying to get on with my job.”
One time as she did her work in Mr. Wynn’s office, this woman said, he repeatedly rubbed his genitals, which were falling out of his shorts, and made comments about things he would like to do with her sexually. On one occasion as she was leaving his office, the former employee said, Mr. Wynn grabbed her waist as she stood against a wall and told her to kiss him. She said she slipped out of his hold and left.
After around two weeks of pursuit, this woman said, Mr. Wynn stopped.
The former employee’s supervisor and another colleague confirmed being told of these advances in detail at the time. The employee and the supervisor said they sought to manage the situation rather than report it because they believed there would be repercussions if they did.
The 2005 allegations of the manicurist that led to the settlement were the most striking described by former employees. In this instance, a woman who was a salon manager at the time said she filed a written report to human resources. She said she got a call from an executive, Doreen Whennen, castigating her for filing to HR and saying she should have taken the matter directly to Ms. Whennen.
The former manager said no one followed up with her about the matter. The manicurist soon left.
Ms. Whennen, who is no longer at the company, declined to comment.
In the lawsuit between the Wynns, Ms. Wynn cited a “multimillion dollar payment” made by Mr. Wynn following allegations he had engaged in “serious misconduct” on company property against an employee not named in the suit. A filing said Ms. Wynn had learned of the settlement in 2009.
In the suit, Ms. Wynn, who is a co-founder and former board member of Wynn Resorts, is seeking to free herself from restrictions on the control of her estimated $1.9 billion of stock that were imposed by a 2010 agreement with Mr. Wynn.
Her attorneys have argued that in making a settlement with a former employee without telling the board, Mr. Wynn recklessly exposed the company and other directors to liability.
Wynn Resorts, in its statement to the Journal, alleged that Ms. Wynn was trying to “tarnish the reputation of Mr. Wynn in an attempt to pressure a revised divorce settlement.” The company called it noteworthy that despite knowing of the allegations since 2009, Ms. Wynn didn’t make them known to the board, of which she was a member, or raise them until after she lost her board seat.
An attorney for Ms. Wynn said she raised the issue internally when she learned of it.
Mr. Wynn’s attorneys have argued the settlement wasn’t relevant to the Wynns’ dispute, which is headed for a trial this spring.
—Jim Oberman, Lisa Schwartz and Zusha Elinson contributed to this article.