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The resignation of former Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn sent shock waves through the gaming industry.
Before the current allegations of sexual impropriety, most viewed Wynn as a gaming visionary. He saw the value of entertainment and amenities long before his competitors and left an indelible mark on the industry.
But there was one gaming venue where Wynn lagged behind: online.
Wynn’s views of online gambling have been hard to pin down in recent years. But as Chris Grove noted in a recent Grove Report, “Wynn was ambivalent at best, opposed at worst when it came to online gambling.”
Wynn wasn’t openly funding opposition efforts like Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, but his tepid feelings have presented a roadblock for online gambling legalization efforts in Massachusetts, as well as efforts in Nevada to expand online offerings from poker-only to online casino games.
In 2009, Wynn stood as an online gambling skeptic.
In an interview at the time, Wynn told the Las Vegas Sun, “Internet gambling can’t be adequately policed and could embarrass the industry.”
Wynn’s tune changed over the years. In a 2011 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Wynn was in favor of legalizing and regulating the industry in order to bring it out of the shadows. He supported capturing some of the jobs and revenue the industry was generating.
“We are convinced that the lack of regulation of Internet gaming within the US must change,” Wynn said. “We must recognize that this activity is occurring and that law enforcement does not have the tools to stop it…. It is time that the thousands of jobs created by this business and the potentially significant tax dollars come home to the US.”
Soon after those comments, Wynn entered into a short-lived partnership with PokerStars. That deal ended abruptly on April 15, 2011. That’s when the US government cracked down on PokerStars and several other offshore US-facing online poker sites.
With a New Jersey license in hand, Wynn once again pivoted his online gaming position. He told Nevada journalist Jon Ralston that online gambling wasn’t a “good entrepreneurial opportunity.” He also resurrected his 2009 comments about a potential scandal plaguing the gaming industry.
“Where is the business opportunity?” he told Ralston. “The big problem I see is I don’t see the government letting us keep the money.”
Even though he publicly opposed online gambling, Wynn never joined with Adelson to stymie online gambling.
According to Las Vegas journalist Howard Stutz, “Sources said Wynn does not plan to financially back the effort by Adelson to halt online gaming legalization in Washington, D.C., or state by state.”
In 2017, Wynn Resorts’ online gambling stance appeared to be softening.
During a March 2017 hearing in Massachusetts, Jacqui Krum, the senior vice president and general counsel for Wynn Resorts Development, said the following:
“We will continue to follow the development and implementation of online gaming to determine whether it adapts to the point at which we can participate.”
“However, we believe that if online gaming is permitted it should be limited to licensees.”
Those comments led to speculation that the company wouldn’t stand in the way of online gambling expansion in Massachusetts. However, a Wynn spokesperson later told Online Poker Report the company’s view hadn’t changed.
“Among other concerns, we continued to believe that online gambling is unable to effectively identify and authenticate the end user, creating a risk of underage gambling,” the spokesperson said. “We still maintain our position on this matter, as communicated by Mr. Wynn over the last several years.”
Now, with Wynn out of the picture, the company’s online gambling position is likely to resemble Krum’s initial comments.
First, the leadership is getting much younger. The 42-year-old Matt Maddox will replace the 76-year-old Wynn as the company’s CEO.
Another good sign for online gambling proponents was the hiring of Craig Billings as CFO in February of last year. Before joining Wynn, Billings worked for IGT, Aristocrat and NYX Gaming. In short, he knows a thing or two about online gambling.