Steve Wynn slipped a pair of vampire teeth into his mouth and walked into an employee meeting at his glittering Las Vegas casino.
It was the day before Halloween 2006, and he would later say he wanted to lighten the mood.
It didn’t work.
The 15 dealers he faced inside the Wynn Las Vegas — all fuming over his new policy that greatly reduced take-home pay — would later file a complaint against him with the National Labor Relations Board, saying he threatened to fire them if they unionized. They told a board judge that the mogul made his point by throwing a tantrum, shouting, belittling them and slamming his fist on a table.
At least twice, they said, he boasted of being “the most powerful man in Nevada.”
This week, Wynn stepped down as chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts after employee allegations of sexual misconduct roiled the value of the empire he created. The 76-year-old businessman has denied the charges, detailed in an investigation by the Wall Street Journal. They include harassing female employees for decades and pressuring some to perform sex acts with him.
Wynn Resorts spokesman Michael Weaver declined to comment on the allegations of Wynn employees in this story.
Other public documents obtained by CNN, including the NLRB judge’s decision, offer a glimpse into what it has been like to work for Wynn.
A CNN reporter spoke with some of the people involved in incidents outlined in the documents. They confirmed the accounts in those records, but most did not want to be quoted. Each feared that talking about Wynn publicly would hurt them professionally in Vegas.
His power and influence, they believe, still looms large.
The documents suggest that whether you dealt cards, served cocktails or cleaned at Wynn’s properties, it helped to understand who your boss was. He was Las Vegas personified — a showman who played to win.
Betting against him was risky.
As the lawyer of one employee who challenged the billionaire put it: Wynn was not afraid to “get rid of a fly by firing a shotgun.”
The mogul vs ‘muggers and thieves’
The October 30, 2006, meeting with the casino dealers came after months of contentious back-and-forth over a new policy that forced dealers to share their tips with supervisors. Dealers said the change cost them as much as 20% of their pay. The casino, Wynn Las Vegas, maintained that it wanted to correct a pay disparity; supervisors earned less than dealers who — before the tip-sharing policy — could make as much as $100,000 a year. Dealers argued that if Wynn wanted to give supervisors a raise, he should reach into his own pocket.
Tensions further escalated when dealers claimed in the media that Wynn had insulted them. In the National Labor Relations Board document obtained by CNN, the dealers said Wynn had called them “muggers and thieves.”
Fifteen dealers and several Wynn Resorts executives were in the room when Wynn strode in and grabbed a seat.
An account of that meeting is contained in the decision issued in this case by the Labor Relations Board judge; it quotes testimony given by the dealers, by executives who spoke on Wynn’s behalf and by Wynn himself. Ultimately, the judge would find that Wynn’s actions violated the National Labor Relations Act. The act protects workers’ right to organize and shields them from reprisals for seeking union representation.
Numerous dealers said that Wynn began by acknowledging their opposition to the tip policy, according to the judge’s decision, but told them there was nothing they could do to change it. Wynn mentioned two other Vegas businesses where employees voted to unionize or had gone on strike and lost their jobs.
“If you join [a] union, I can by law replace all 600 of you,” dealer Tynisia Boone recalled Wynn threatening, “and if you picket you will automatically be terminated because those are my sidewalks.”
Wynn denied that he threatened to fire anyone. He told the judge that he said, “Nobody is getting fired.”
He only fired people for cause, he said, not for unionizing. He told the judge that he was only conveying to the dealers that union representatives can “call people at home” and “intimidate” employees while an employer like himself speaks “on the record…publicly.”
Wynn opened the floor to questions, telling the dealers they should feel free to speak up.
“We all need to become a family again,” the dealers recalled him saying.
Cynthia Fields, a single-mom with a toddler son, was seated next to Wynn. She spoke up, saying she had left a job at MGM Hotel to work at Wynn’s casino. Dealing for Wynn, several workers told CNN, were coveted spots on the Las Vegas Strip because his casinos paid better than others.
“If I had known I was going to come here and I was going to have money taken away for nothing I had done,” Fields told her boss, “I possibly would not have made that change.”
She went on to tell Wynn that she was a single parent with a young son and the tips policy would mean she would lose $15,000 to $20,000 a year, a “huge financial burden.”
According to her, Wynn replied, “If $15,000 to $20,000 a year makes that big of a difference in your life, then you’re doing something wrong.” Another dealer testified to recalling this.
Wynn then became loud and irate, she and others recalled.
Fields said Wynn stood up from his chair and “was leaning over me” so intently that “I could feel the spit on my face from his mouth.”
Dealer Tynisia Boone recalled “Wynn got up and started screaming” and then “started getting up and down and slamming his hand and fist on the table.” According to Boone and others, Wynn asserted that he was “the most powerful man in Nevada.”
Dealer Tom Golly declared Wynn’s attempts to take tips “illegal,” according to Boone. Wynn retorted that his “name was on the building and he can do anything he wants to do,” Boone said.
In his testimony before the Labor Relations Board judge, Wynn admitted to banging his fist on the table. “Yes … that’s the way I speak. I tend to be an emphatic person,” he said.
He said he couldn’t remember telling Fields — who he referred to in testimony as “this gal” — that she was doing something wrong if losing $15,000 to $20,000 a year was a big deal.
Asked by the dealers’ attorney why two female dealers appeared to be teary-eyed during the meeting, Wynn answered that they came into the meeting that way. “I’m certain it wasn’t anything I said,” he testified.
Two Wynn Las Vegas executives spoke to the judge on the company’s behalf. One said Wynn’s behavior was “animated” in the meeting with dealers but denied that Wynn ever used the word “terminated,” or said he was the state’s most powerful man. Another executive denied that Wynn slammed his fist on a table before Wynn admitted he had done so in his own testimony.
The judge’s summary also referred to testimony from two dealers who supported Wynn. One said Wynn had offered to “look into a bonus program” after Fields spoke. Another recalled that Wynn knocked a water bottle over but couldn’t recall him repeatedly standing up and sitting down, or uttering the words “replaced” or “terminated.” Neither denied that he threatened them with termination.
Judge Burton Litvack ruled against Wynn, finding that his remarks about the futility of unionizing and “derisive comments about the effects of union representation” violated workers’ rights to support a union under the National Labor Relations Act.
Wynn’s “statements and actions during the meeting must be viewed in the context of his desire to frighten and intimidate” the dealers, Litvack wrote.
The punishment was standard under the Act: The casino had to agree to refrain from repeating its violations of the labor laws and post a public notice saying they would not happen again.
One dealer, feeling victorious, took a photo of that notice after it was hung on a wall at work. The dealer showed the photo to a CNN reporter.
In his decision, which was not appealed, Litvack wrote that Wynn gave “sardonic and disingenuous” testimony and “exhibited a haughty and insolent attitude while testifying.” A decade later, Litvack told CNN this week that Wynn struck him as a “chauvinist.”
Because of the age of the case, a transcript of the hearing was not available but Litvack told CNN that he “came out of his chair” listening to Wynn make “very disparaging comments about the women who were at the meeting, particularly some of them that, I think it said, were crying. He was very demeaning about them crying.
“I think he called them gals — not women, not employees. It’s a very demeaning comment,” Litvack said. “It upset me. I believed the women.”
Waitress says she was called a ‘blue whale’
Eleven cocktail waitresses who worked for Wynn at The Mirage brought federal suit against him in 1997, claiming he discriminated against them because of their weight and age. The lawsuit was reported on this week by the Las Vegas Review-Journal which said that the newspaper in 1998 stopped publication of a reporter’s story about the suit and its allegations that Wynn told servers they did not look good in their uniforms.
The Mirage settled the waitresses’ claims by 2003, the terms of which were undisclosed, the Review-Journal reported.
The paper last week interviewed a waitress, now 75, who it did not name, who alleged that Wynn sexually harassed her for a year and that she had sex with him. “I did it willingly, because I felt I had to,” she told the paper. “I didn’t really want to. I was afraid for my job.”
Wynn did not respond to the Review-Journal’s story this week.
He gave this statement after the Wall Street Journal’s investigation into alleged sexual misconduct with employees: “The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous. 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 the insulting publicity or engaging in multiyear lawsuits. It is deplorable for anyone to find themselves in this situation.”
Charlotte Arrowsmith, the lead complainant in the cocktail waitresses’ suit, spoke with CNN on the day Wynn resigned as CEO of Wynn Resorts. She worked for Wynn for 17 years, she said, first at his Golden Nugget casino and then at The Mirage. She felt belittled the last five years of her employment, she said.
She said she was called a “blue whale,” and dealers and supervisors “would make the whale sounds like the whales make in the ocean” when she and other servers put in drink orders.
She wept at the news that Wynn resigned. “Oh, hallelujah, thank you Lord! Something positive can come from this,” she said. “After all that he put us through, he needs to be humiliated.”
On October 2, 2005, a woman who worked as a cleaning crew manager for Wynn walked into a Las Vegas police station, according to a narrative report the department provided to CNN.
She said the casino owner had assaulted her.
The incident began, Raquel Houston told police, when Wynn called her, yelling that he wanted her to come to the Lure Nightclub, a lounge at Wynn Resorts, “at the speed of light.”
Houston described to CNN this week what she remembers happening.
After Wynn ordered her to meet him, she said, he shouted, “Now!”
Crews were working with big machines to clean marble at the club, and she worried that Wynn or someone else had been injured. She ran upstairs with her two assistant supervisors to find a casino executive and Wynn.
“He turns around to me and then he starts yelling at me and grabbing me tight and pulling on me,” Houston told CNN. “I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that he was doing this.”
“He was going, ‘What is this crap? What is going on here? Who gave you authorization?’
“I was trying to answer his question,” Houston recalled. “I told him, ‘This is the marble crew that does your floors every night.’ I told him, ‘Please stop grabbing me. Stop, let me go.'”
In 2006, Houston sued Wynn in civil court, describing her effort “to pull away” from Wynn. He “tightened his grip” on her arm and “continued to drag her,” the suit said. “After a significant struggle [Houston] was able to free herself.”
Her arm was injured in the incident, she alleged, and she had to get medical treatment, including therapy. She also needed “ongoing treatment” for “emotional trauma and distress,” the suit said.
Houston told CNN that Wynn badly bruised her arm. She asked for damages in excess of $10,000 each for medical costs, lost wages, emotional distress and other compensation. Under Nevada law, suits for less than $50,000 must go to arbitration, and this case did.
Wynn denied her allegations. He hired lawyers in New York for $39,027.40, according to a court filing, and lawyers in Las Vegas whose bill came to $100,830.95. Court papers show the legal battle stretched on for almost four years. During part of that time, Houston had no attorney. The arbitrator ruled in favor of Wynn, saying Houston failed to provide evidence and meet the burden of proof.
Las Vegas police spokesman Lawrence Hadfield said investigative reports are not public in Nevada, but he told CNN that Houston’s case went to a prosecutor, who declined to file charges.
The billionaire wanted Houston to reimburse him $49,124.53, according to a document filed by an attorney who took up her case. “There is no other way to describe this approach” wrote attorney M. Lani Esteban-Trinidad, “other than to analogize it to attempting to get rid of a fly by firing a shotgun …”
Houston told CNN she struggled to get a job in Las Vegas for years after she was fired from Wynn Resorts in 2009, the year the case ended. She is 57 now and still unemployed. Officials at other casinos, she said, have told her that they can’t hire her because she challenged Wynn.
“It’s been rough and horrible,” she said, crying. She feels black-balled.
The court ordered Houston to pay a portion of Wynn attorneys’ fees and other costs totaling nearly $16,000. Houston said she had to file bankruptcy because of the case.
“It wasn’t about money,” her lawyer told CNN. “To my feeling, it was just vindictive.
“I think he wanted to send a message to anybody that might want to challenge Wynn Resorts or Steve Wynn: It won’t end well for you.”