Is “Sun vs. Wynn” a Gaming Industry Version of “David vs. Goliath?”

Wynn Everett

When Steve Wynn made his presentation for his Everett Casino Resort in Massachusetts, he quoted Mandela that “…people will only remember how you made them feel” and equated the story of life as the sun, water and oxygen.  Wow, move over Socrates, move over Aristotle, we have a new philosopher in town – and he’s building a casino somewhere near you.  Only this time, it’s in Massachusetts.

We all have heard of Steve Wynn – the visionary who led Las Vegas to today’s promised land.  The person who has bought, sold, built, sold and built again, continuing to build parts of himself throughout the world’s gambling meccas.  Atlantic City, then Las Vegas, now Macau.  You even hear his droll, emotional descriptions of his Vegas Resorts the minute you get in a cab at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas from a monitor setup in the taxi!  Talk about comfortable with oneself.

It can be said that Steve Wynn’s influence in the gambling industry has been and continues to be immense, with consideration not only to the usual gaming needs for a casino resort, but adding more, “outside the box” (sorry, I know that phrase is overused), such as musical fountains, gardens, and expensive art work.  So, what is he bringing to Massachusetts that will be different, unusual or ground-breaking?

I don’t know – evergreen trees instead of palm trees?  One thing is for sure – Mr. Wynn is  definitely persistent. The Las Vegas company run by billionaire casino developer Steve Wynn has demanded numerous accommodations from state offices in Massachusetts concerning environmental regulations, taxes, and access to his proposed site, among other considerations.  At times, he has ranted at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission like someone who will take his ball and go home if he doesn’t get his way.

Mohegan Sun at Suffolk Downs

Enter Mohegan Sun, and Mitchell Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.  They are battling Wynn for the one Eastern Mass. full casino license.  It almost seems like a David and Goliath situation, where everyone expects Wynn to prevail.  After all, Mohegan Sun has only three properties – Wynn sold more properties to MGM on the Vegas Strip in one day!!

But now, the mild-mannered Sun, after losing the Palmer license in the west because of a lack of community support has taken off the gloves and is fighting back. As Mike Arsenault of the Boston Globe points out things changed when the competing casinos gave their public presentations.  “Mohegan Sun barely acknowledged there was another applicant for the license, instead focusing on the merits of its own proposal.  Wynn, on the other hand, personally blasted Mohegan Sun’s building design and suggested that the rival company had a tax incentive to steer big gamblers away from Massachusetts and to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, where table game revenues are not taxed.”

Etess struck back pointing out the following points:

  • Mohegan Sun’s agreement with its financial partner, Brigade Capital Management, contains language to ensure the casino company cannot favor the Connecticut property over a Revere casino.
  • Mohegan Sun could be up and running more quickly, in part because the property where Wynn wants to build, a former chemical site, is contaminated and must be cleaned.
  • Wynn submissions to the gambling commission for a series of recommendations outlining proposed changes to the state’s casino law were also criticized and attacked.  Etess went on to say, “Mohegan Sun is willing to work within the rules Massachusetts established. The company’s application answered the question about proposed changes this way: “Because we participated in the gaming act’s creation and noted the careful deliberation with which the Legislature used to craft it, [Mohegan Sun] does not think that the gaming act needs any major legislative changes to be successful.”

Take that, Goliath, I mean Mr. Wynn, sir.

And for all that Steve Wynn has done for the gambling industry, could it be his biggest achievement is his unmitigated arrogance? At his presentation, he was quoted as saying “We don’t give a damn about Connecticut…….Mohegan Sun will do anything other than have to compete with us. They care about Connecticut where they pay a zero tax on tables. Do you get that?……All the rest of this is pretty transparent. We’re their worst nightmare.”

MGM has asked the two parties to “play nice.”  Somehow, I don’t think this the last we will hear between the two sides.  All in all, the final decision comes down to the Mass. Gaming Commission.  Let’s hope it’s soon before friendly fire takes them both down with anti-casino legislation.

That’s all for now.