The fall of Las Vegas titan Steve Wynn came after decades of allegations

JOHN YANG: But first: A billionaire casino magnate from Las Vegas steps down from his company after multiple allegations of sexual wrongdoing. As William Brangham reports, it’s not just of one of the titans of Las Vegas, but it’s also a key player in national Republican politics.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Steve Wynn helped turn Las Vegas into the multibillion-dollar tourist mecca it is today. As CEO of Wynn Resorts, Wynn built the Bellagio, the Mirage, the Wynn Hotel, emblazoning his name and image on them and the city. Wynn was also the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee and a big GOP donor.

But that all came crashing down when The Wall Street Journal published a story alleging a years-long pattern of harassment and sexual coercion by Wynn against his employees. The Journal reported that at least one of them was paid a $7 million settlement. Wynn has denied all the allegations against him, calling them preposterous. Rick Velotta has been covering this story for The Las Vegas Review Journal, which, we should point out, is owned by Sheldon Adelson, who is also a big GOP donor and a competitor of Steve Wynn’s in the casino business in Vegas and elsewhere. Rick Velotta, welcome to the “NewsHour.” Could you just lay out what the allegations are against Steve Wynn?

RICK VELOTTA, The Las Vegas Review-Journal: Well, right now, it’s under investigation that he coerced some of his female employees to give him massages, and then to have sex with him in some of the — some of the hotel rooms at the Wynn Las Vegas.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And there are some allegations, I take it, of — that he was asking waitresses not to lose weight in the past. There are some other allegations. Can you explain those as well?

RICK VELOTTA: Yes, this was actually several years ago, when there was some big controversy about how he felt like some of the women employees just didn’t look as good as they could have looked. So, he brought them all into a room, talked to them about the fact that they needed to lose weight, and then he set a standard by which they had only a certain amount of pounds that they could gain from the time that they were hired in order to keep their jobs.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And we should also say, there was a story that your paper admitted recently that it had spiked back in the late 1990s that detailed some other allegations against Wynn. Can you tell us about those?

RICK VELOTTA: Sure. There were some allegations that he handpicked several employees that he wanted to have intimate relations with.

One of those was a grandmother, and one of the things that he said was he wanted to have a grandmother, because he didn’t know — he wanted to see what it felt like.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Again, we should reiterate that Steve Wynn has said — flatly denies all of these allegations, past and present.

RICK VELOTTA: Exactly.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For those of us who are not that familiar with him, can you tell us a little bit about Steve Wynn and his stature and role in Las Vegas?

RICK VELOTTA: Steve Wynn is considered to be the mover and shaker of the community. Over the — over a period of time, from the late ’80s to the early 2000s, Las Vegas was going through a metamorphosis, and he was leading the way all — with every property that he built. You mentioned the Mirage, where a volcano erupts every 15 minutes. You mentioned the Bellagio, where dancing waters are, you know, a lake in front of the building.

All these things were attracting people from all across the country. And the thing was is, you wanted to see these things. You wanted to come to Las Vegas just to check them out. And so people would come here. So he’s considered kind of a hero in terms of building the community that has drawn so many visitors. We’re now up to 43 million a year.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: With cases like Harvey Weinstein, once the allegations came out, everybody in Hollywood said, yes, we had known about this for a long period of time. Was there a sense that there were rumors about Steve Wynn? I mean, did this come as a bolt out of the blue?

RICK VELOTTA: No, it wasn’t a bolt out of the blue, because I think that the same types of allegations were being discussed across Las Vegas in many ways. But Mr. Wynn, also a very individual, held on to the fact that you could be fired by him by — you know, if you didn’t comply with what he wanted.

There were a lot of people who feared for their jobs. So, therefore, you know, it was one of those things where this just kept going on and on. And we have documentation that it happened up to three decades ago.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As I mentioned before, he was the finance chair of the GOP, of the Republican National Committee, and a big donor. Do you have any sense — I know there have been a lot of calls that members of the GOP return money that he helped raise for the party. Do you have any sense of what this scandal might do to his stature within the party?

RICK VELOTTA: Well, it’s kind of hard to tell with — because that was one of the first things he did, was resign that Republican position. And he’s been active in politics for all his career on both sides of the aisle, I might add. Before he was Republican national chair, he was often donating to other causes, depending on which candidate best met his needs as far as his business was concerned.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He obviously has a lot of ongoing projects going. And I’m just curious what your sense of the fallout is this going to be.

I mean, he’s got projects in Boston. He’s got more in Vegas. He has interests this China. What’s your sense of how those are — are those in jeopardy now?

RICK VELOTTA: Well, it’s kind of hard to say.

It’s a little bit too early, because he’s only stepped down less than 24 hours ago. But — and the Wynn board of directors has named a new CEO, Matthew Maddox. The feeling I’m getting is that they hope to continue business as usual, but it’s very difficult to fill the shoes of Steve Wynn, somebody who everybody has respected over the years and who has had that creativity to build what is — what is today’s Las Vegas.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And lastly, just quickly, what are the ongoing investigations, and what might they be looking into?

RICK VELOTTA: These are being conducted by three regulatory organizations, the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and the regulatory body in Macau. Also, his own board of directors is conducting its own in-house investigation. What they want to do is find out exactly what happened, if anybody — if there were some breakdowns within the company in terms of reporting to H.R. some of the these things that were going on. And it’s possible that the regulators, the gaming regulators, could penalize Mr. Wynn even more. They could revoke his license.

They could fine the company a large sum of money, like seven figures.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Rick Velotta of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, thanks very much.

RICK VELOTTA: Thanks for having me.