MGC Consultants See ‘Significant Shift’ in Culture at Wynn, Encore

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) heard a report from consultant Miller & Chevalier regarding how Wynn Resorts and Encore Boston Harbor has adhered to the changes required after sexual misconduct hearings one year ago.

It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was just one year ago that the fate of Wynn’s Encore Boston Harbor license was in jeopardy through two weeks of hearings at the South Boston Convention Center in April 2019. In the end, of course, Encore was able to keep its license, but there were many requirements that the MGC Commissioners implemented as stipulations.

One of those requirements was to have an independent compliance consultant investigate and report back on the progress of company’s human resources and sexual harassment/discrimination policies. That began in September 2019, and on Thursday, May 21, the consultant reported back – with mostly good findings for Wynn and it’s revamped organization.

“Our main focus was to look into the culture that trickled down given the events that happened last year,” said Alejandra Montenegro, an independent evaluator with the consultant firm. “We have seen a meaningful shift…We also should give credit to the central leadership of the company. Matt Maddox…and Brian Gullbrants are all recognized by us as credible. The was something we were very deliberate to test in our investigation. They have gained credibility and importance in the organization. Especially…Mr. Gullbrants is being recognized as being present and waling the floor and being visible and having developed different platforms to communicate with employees through things like shift briefings before each shift, e-mail communication. That is a platform we encourage the company to leverage.”

Said investigator Preston Pugh, “Having spent time with leadership in Las Vegas and in Boston, it’s absolutely clear the pain of 2018 is still palpable. They still feel that and have no desire to go through that. They get the message. Not only are they looking at the importance of having sustainable systems beyond this leadership group – but this leadership group get it too. They understand it’s for the long haul.”

One of the key findings in the report is a new leadership in human resources and a devoted, robust budget for developing a “mature” human resources and compliance team. Pugh and Montenegro reported they were impressed with the hiring of a new senior vice president at the company headquarters in Las Vegas who has the tools to implement all the changes necessary to transform the organization from where it was before – when its leader, Steve Wynn, was accused of several instances of sexual misconduct.

“Creating that position and giving her staff that is equipped, capable and experienced to handle the compliance process is another indicator for us,” said Montenegro. “They are not just filling positions to fill them. The company seems to be very deliberate with the experience it is seeking with its personnel that owns its human resources program and implementation…Most importantly have been some increased transparency in the reporting of sexual harassment and discrimination cases.”

Those complaint are being elevated to general counsel and outside counsel on a weekly and quarterly basis as part of a new protocol – no matter who reports them or who they are lodged against.

One area of risk now, they said, is not so much other employees or superiors, but guests at the establishment. In interviews with employees, it was said there is great risk with the behavior of patrons and the company’s desire to have patrons affirm a five-star experience. The two do not always mix, and it was something they challenged Encore and Wynn to think about.

“The employees interviewed did not perceive a high risk by offending behavior from other employees, but they do raise offending behavior by patrons as something that is quite prevalent,” she said. “It’s not terribly surprising giving the casino industry…Wynn and Encore’s focus on customer service is something they take very seriously and employees take great pride in too…An unintentional consequence is employees perceive they are not empowered in some instances to push back on patron behavior that is offending…”

That brought up many industry-specific issues in the casino industry, such as in-room servers, and they challenged Wynn to be a leader in re-thinking that service in a way that doesn’t leave employees isolated and vulnerable to attack.

“In a way they are swimming upstream in addressing risks tolerated and accepted in the larger gaming industry,” she said. “It is a unique challenge for a company like Wynn to be in a leadership position as it tries to address these more difficult risks.”

Overall, the consultants interviewed 113 people in Boston and 87 in Las Vegas to get an idea of how things were going, and did their work over the last six months. They said they had absolute cooperation from the company, and found that most all of the changes and suggestions given by the MGC one year ago were being taken seriously.

Many of those changes were being implemented well, and stood to benefit from a few tweaks suggested in the report.

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