Wynn Resorts board opens inquiry into sexual misconduct accusations against chairman Steve Wynn

Chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts Steve Wynn at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, US, on May 3, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) The Wynn Resorts Ltd board of directors formed a special committee on Friday (Jan 26) to investigate sexual misconduct allegations reported in the Wall Street Journal against the company's chairman and CEO, Steve Wynn, the board said in a statement.

The announcement came hours after the Journal detailed accounts it said were obtained from dozens of past and present employees who accused the billionaire casino mogul of creating a hostile work environment for women.

The company's stock fell more than 10.1 per cent in heavy trading to close at $180.29 on the Nasdaq exchange following Friday's article.

The newspaper reported on Friday that the Las Vegas casino mogul has routinely subjected women who work for him to unwanted sexual advances in a pattern of misconduct detailed by dozens of past and present employees, but the billionaire denied the accusations as "preposterous".

Wynn, 76, is the founder, chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd, and the company's stock fell more than 10.1 per cent in heavy trading to close at $180.29 on the Nasdaq exchange on Friday after the report.

The Wall Street Journal said former and current company staff members it interviewed accused Wynn of creating a hostile work environment for women and of regularly pressuring employees to perform sex acts.

The report was the latest in a wave of sexual abuse and harassment allegations leveled against powerful men during the past year, especially in the media and entertainment industries and politics.

Wynn has straddled both those worlds, as a prominent figure in the casino resort business and onetime rival of Donald Trump. Wynn was named finance chairman of the US Republican National Committee after Trump became president.

Former workers, the Journal said, told of employees going to such lengths as making phony entries in appointment books to help other female employees avoid a request for services in Wynn's office, or arranged for others to pose as assistants so they would not be alone with him.

Others, the newspaper said, recounted female employees hiding in the lavatory or backrooms when they learned he was on his way to a hotel salon.

"Everybody was petrified," former salon artistic director Jorgen Nielsen was quoted as telling the Journal.

According to Nielsen, he and others repeatedly told high-level company executives about Wynn's unwanted sexual advances, but "nobody was there to help us".

The article said Wynn paid a US$7.5 million (S$9.8 million) settlement to a former manicurist at his flagship Wynn Las Vegas resort who had accused Wynn of forcing her to have sex in his office in 2005.

The Journal said the alleged incident and settlement were mentioned obliquely in court documents filed in a lawsuit brought by the casino owner's former wife, Elaine Wynn, over control of her stock in the company.

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Steve Wynn, who turns 76 on Saturday (Jan 27), denied the allegations in a statement emailed to Reuters.

"The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous," he said. He added: "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."

A spokeswoman for Elaine Wynn, 75, declined comment, but her Washington-based attorney, James Cole, told Reuters the notion that his client fomented the allegations in the Journal article "is just not true."

The couple first married in 1963 and divorced in 1986. They remarried in 1991 and divorced again in 2010, according to court papers. In an escalating battle that followed their bitter second split, Elaine Wynn sued her former spouse in 2016 seeking to gain control over her 9.4 percent stock in Wynn Resorts.

The lawsuit accused her ex-husband of breaching a 2010 stockholder agreement by engineering her ouster from the company's board the previous April.

Wynn owns roughly 11.8 percent of his company, regulatory filings show, giving him a stake worth close to US$2.2 billion. Forbes magazine puts his overall net worth at about US$3.5 billon.

In addition to Wynn Las Vegas, the company's assets include Encore at Wynn Las Vegas and Wynn Macau. Steve Wynn also helped develop such Las Vegas hotel-casino properties as the Bellagio, the Mirage and Treasure Island.

The Journal said none of the 150 people contacted for its story had reached out to the newspaper, and that most of those interviewed expressed fear that Wynn's influence in the casino industry could hurt their ability to find work elsewhere.

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