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Federal judge dismisses DOJ lawsuit seeking to have Steve Wynn register as a foreign agent

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
CourtsEconomyGaming
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A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled Wednesday that former Las Vegas casino operator Steve Wynn cannot be ordered to register with the U.S. Department of Justice as a foreign agent of China.

The DOJ sued the former gaming executive in May, alleging he lobbied former President Donald Trump and members of his administration on behalf of the Chinese government when he was chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts.

In a ruling first reported by Reuters, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg cited previous federal court rulings on similar cases. He noted that any relationship between Wynn and the Chinese government ended in 2017.

"We are delighted that the District Court today dismissed the government’s ill-conceived lawsuit against Steve Wynn," Wynn’s attorneys, Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig, said in a statement emailed to The Nevada Independent. “Mr. Wynn never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and never lobbied on its behalf. This is a claim that should never have been filed, and the Court agreed."

In a statement released late Wednesday, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said the "government respectfully disagrees" with the ruling and is considering its options going forward. The DOJ remains committed to enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act [FARA].

"The district court acknowledged in its opinion that the result it reached frustrates FARA's purpose of getting information to the public that it needs to evaluate the extent of foreign influence over U.S. policy and public opinion," a spokesman said in an email.

The DOJ’s complaint alleged that Wynn contacted Trump and administration members between June 2017 and August 2017 on behalf of the Chinese government, which was seeking to return a Chinese national to its country.

Justice Department officials said at the time Wynn “acted at the request of the People’s Republic of China out of a desire to protect his business interests in Macau.”

Wynn Resorts operates three casinos in Macau, a special administrative region of China. At the time of the contact with the Trump administration, the Macau government had restricted the number of gaming tables and slot machines Wynn’s company could operate. The company was also looking at renegotiating its gaming concession with the Macau government.

Steve Wynn, who resigned from his position at Wynn Resorts in 2018 amid sexual misconduct allegations, had been repeatedly advised to register as a foreign agent on behalf of China over the last four years but declined, according to the lawsuit.

The casino mogul departed the company he founded after a Wall Street Journal report detailed years of alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate relationships with subordinates by Wynn. After leaving his namesake company, Wynn sold all his stock in Wynn Resorts and moved to Florida.

In March, the Nevada Supreme Court said a lower court lacked jurisdictional standing when it ruled in 2020 that state gaming regulators couldn’t hold the former casino executive accountable for the sexual misconduct and harassment allegations. In 2019, the Gaming Control Board requested the Nevada Gaming Commission formally declare Wynn as unsuitable to hold a gaming license.

Wynn Resorts underwent a makeover following Wynn’s departure, with a revamping 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 Wynn. 

Massachusetts gaming regulators slapped a $35 million fine on Wynn Resorts over the misconduct claims three months later.

(Updated on 10/12/2022 at 2:28 p.m. to include a statement from the Department of Justice.)

(Updated on 10/12/2022 at 12:36 p.m., to include an updated statement from Wynn's attorneys.)

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