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What’s in a name?

Opinion | April 23, 2018

Content warning: This article mentions incidents of sexual assault.

 

Just across the Mystic River from Somerville’s Assembly Square towers the shell of Wynn Boston Harbor, the $2.4 billion casino in Everett set to open in June 2019. Reported to be the largest private, single-phase construction project in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Wynn Resorts venture has faced multiple lawsuits from the cities of Somerville, Everett, and Boston since receiving its license in 2013, each citing concerns like traffic congestion and environmental implications. Yet, Wynn Resorts have marched on, touting the Everett casino as an economic godsend for the greater Boston area.

 

The tune of the company hasn’t changed following the resignation of CEO and board chairman Steve Wynn, who has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by dozens of women. The Wall Street Journal report that broke the allegations included news of a $7.5 million settlement paid to a manicurist at his Las Vegas casino property who said Wynn forced her to have sex with him in 2005, one of many allegations of harassment, intimidation and assault made by his former employees at properties around the country. One casino dealer said she was forced to resign after turning down Wynn’s advances, and another woman claims that Wynn impregnated her after assaulting her numerous times between 1973 and 1974.

 

Steve Wynn has called these accusations “preposterous”—and by failing to hold Wynn accountable and remove his name from their soon-to-be casino, so has Wynn Boston Harbor.

 

“Still 16 months from opening, the jobs and spending created by Wynn Boston Harbor has already had an amazing impact on families, businesses and communities all across Massachusetts,” Wynn Boston Harbor said in a statement to Boston 25 News.

 

This response, in its vague, public-relations-type tone, speaks of community uplift through spending that ignores the realities of who truly benefits from the construction of a massive casino under the Wynn name. Which families? Not those whose members will take new service jobs at a casino where their safety isn’t a priority. Which businesses? Not independent businesses in Everett and Somerville that will be pushed out by new commercial pressures and increased traffic to the neighboring corporate Assembly Square, which may be connected to the resort via footbridge. And which communities? Not working class immigrants, not women domestic workers, and not those for whom the resort is a travel destination, but a daily reality.

 

While Wynn Resorts are working their hardest to save face and claim to be invested in the livelihoods of our community members, the fact remains that the Wynn name has come to represent the pervasive culture of sexual assault that directly threatens those very members.  Scrawled across the Mystic River skyline and imprinted on every towel, menu, and poker chip on the property, “Wynn Boston Harbor” will be a testament to the fact that with enough money and power, a man can get away with almost anything. It’s time for this highly visible and influential resort to respond to the needs and values of its community members and remove Wynn’s name from its title.

 

In the words of Boston Rape Crisis Center executive director Gina Scaramella, forcing Wynn’s name from the Everett project “will not undo the damage caused by decades of sexual assault,” but it is an essential step towards community accountability.

 

“We strongly feel that Massachusetts should take this opportunity to show leadership and a respect for common community values,” Scaramella told me. “We don’t build monuments to people who have been forced out of their jobs because of multiple allegations of sexual assault.” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has also called for the removal of Wynn’s name from the Everett project, suggesting the Gaming Commission revoke their casino license if they fail to comply.

 

Wynn Boston Harbor wouldn’t be alone in their rejection of the mogul’s name and what it has come to represent. Wynn’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, revoked his honorary degree and removed his name from a campus plaza named for him. A petition was also launched on the website Care2 calling on the city of Las Vegas to rename Wynn Boulevard.

 

Scaramella noted that this response should not be taken to shield victims of sexual abuse from Wynn’s name, but to guarantee that the Mystic River skyline is not used as a platform for someone who doesn’t uphold what she describes as “Massachusetts values.” She also urged concerned community members to contact their legislatures and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which has reopened its suitability review of Wynn Resorts and is investigating if company executives were complicit in covering up for Wynn in 2013, prior to being awarded their state gaming license.

 

As the Boston Globe notes, Matt Maddox—the Wynn Resorts president who has replaced Wynn as CEO—and Kim Sinatra, the company’s general counsel, were both at Wynn Resorts when it applied for its gaming license and failed to disclose the $7.5 million settlement. “What Maddox and Sinatra might know but failed to disclose is as important as what Wynn knew but failed to disclose,” wrote a Globe editorialist. Even with Wynn seemingly distanced from the Everett project, this current leadership doesn’t restore any faith in Wynn Boston Harbor as a workplace that will be free of harassment, coercion, and unfair treatment. A name change would be one small step in a much larger corporate overhaul that will be necessary following the Gaming Commission’s completed investigation.

 

Some signs point toward some corporate shifts in response to this public pressure, as it was announced that Wynn will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in severance pay following his resignation, and will provide “reasonable cooperation and assistance” for the company’s internal investigations. Punishing Wynn is a critical form of accountability, but it means nothing without the structural changes and public actions—such as the renaming of Wynn Boston Harbor—that can be the only way for this casino to build a real partnership with the community into which it is inserting itself.

 

A spokesman for Wynn Resorts said that they have no plans to rebrand the Everett project without the Wynn name, but Massachusetts’ leaders and Boston residents have the power—and the responsibility—to change that. By holding Wynn and the complicit new leadership of his organization accountable, we can begin the process of preventing harassment, coercion, and unfair treatment in our newest landmark. A renaming is only one small step in the work corporations like this one must do to treat their communities and workers with humanity and to have a neutral if not positive effect on their surrounding environment. The Everett casino isn’t going away, and it’s going to have a profound impact on the physical and economic landscape of our community. Let’s make sure we don’t build something that future generations will tear down in shame.