by Howard Stutz, The Nevada Independent, March 31, 2022
The Nevada Supreme Court said a lower court lacked jurisdictional standing when it ruled in 2020 that state gaming regulators couldn’t hold former casino executive Steve Wynn accountable for sexual misconduct and harassment allegations.
In a nine-page opinion released Thursday, the seven justices unanimously ruled that Clark County District Court Judge Adriana Escobar should not have decided the matter because the Nevada Gaming Commission had not yet ruled on a 2019 request by the Gaming Control Board to have Wynn declared formally unsuitable to hold a gaming license.
The issue was appealed to the Supreme Court because gaming regulators believed they could still hold the disgraced gaming mogul accountable for sexual harassment allegations that led to his departure from Wynn Resorts in 2018.
The control board brought the complaint amid well-documented media reports and investigations that concluded Wynn made unwanted sexual advances and engaged in inappropriate relationships with subordinates. Wynn has long denied the allegations, but still departed the company two weeks after they were unveiled. He now resides in Florida.
Wynn’s attorneys filed a petition for judicial review after his motion to dismiss the control board’s complaint was denied by the gaming commission.
“We conclude that the district court lacked jurisdiction to entertain Wynn’s petition,” Justice Abbi Silver wrote on behalf of the court. “Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s order granting Wynn’s petition and remand this matter to the district court with instructions to dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction.”
The justices agreed that a judicial review of the Wynn case was “precluded because only final orders may be reviewed, and the district court properly found that the commission’s order is not final.”
Gaming Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson said in a statement the agency was “pleased with the ruling. We are reviewing the decision with legal counsel to determine next steps.”
The decision came following a Jan. 3 hearing in which Wynn’s attorney, Colby Williams, told the justices during oral arguments that regulators have no authority over Wynn now, and that they cannot hold him responsible for failing to appear at a Gaming Control Board hearing.
He said the former casino operator gave up his gaming license some 20 months before the Gaming Control Board filed a five-count complaint that sought to label the former CEO as “unsuitable to be associated with a gaming enterprise or the gaming industry as a whole.”
The control board and gaming commission appealed Escobar’s ruling from November 2020 that said Wynn’s resignation and sale of his holdings in the company removed him from their oversight.
Following the lower court decision, gaming regulators expressed concern that the ruling would impede their ability to discipline former gaming license holders for unsuitable activity uncovered after they leave the industry.
After reading the Supreme Court’s decision, Williams said the complaint will now have to be heard by the five-person Gaming Commission, which has been completely revamped since the end of 2019. He noted the Supreme Court didn’t weigh in on any of the arguments he made on Jan. 3.
“We’re disappointed that they didn’t reach the ultimate issue, but we’re gratified that all of our arguments can still be presented when we go back to the commission, and then if necessary, back to the court,” Williams told The Nevada Independent.
Wynn Resorts underwent a makeover following Steve Wynn’s departure, with a remake of the company’s board, new leadership in the executive suite and new policies on sexual harassment prevention. A compliance committee also was created with numerous procedures to prevent any harassment allegation from going unchecked.
In February 2019, the company paid a $20 million fine – the largest in Nevada history – to the gaming commission to settle a 10-count complaint that detailed years of failure by former company executives to “report and/or investigate” numerous allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct by Steve Wynn.
Massachusetts gaming regulators slapped a $35 million fine on Wynn Resorts over the misconduct claims three months later.