July: A remarkable month of gaming moments, Las Vegas milestones

July 26, 2023 8:20 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
July 26, 2023 8:20 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

Taking a step away from the column for a few weeks has again reminded me not only of the lightning speed of the gaming-industry news cycle, but of the events, milestones, and head-scratching oddities that are so quickly forgotten.

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I’ll start with one that’s close to many hearts, the July 21 death of Tony Bennett at age 96. The singing legend provided the soundtrack for the Great American Songbook and performed for decades on the Las Vegas Strip.

I feel fortunate to have watched him twice, decades apart. The first time, at the newly christened Las Vegas Hilton in the early 1970s, I wasn’t yet a teenager. Still his style and songs were magical even to my young ears. The second was at the showroom at Caesars Palace. I was in my 50s by then, but to my amazement, he sounded better than ever.

When Bennett turned 90 in August 2016, some thoughtful people celebrated by temporarily renaming Las Vegas Boulevard in his honor. It was a first for the Strip —and a tribute that was more than deserved.

Tony Bennett will sing forever in the Las Vegas I love the most.

July also saw another milestone, this one striking a decidedly dissonant note.

It was the metaphorical end of the line in Las Vegas for former casino king Steve Wynn, who settled an ugly Gaming Control Board complaint alleging sexual misconduct by agreeing to pay a $10 million fine be declared “unsuitable” to work in a business that he helped build to unprecedented heights.

Although he consistently denied wrongdoing, following public revelations of alleged sexual misconduct in 2018, the former chairman of Wynn Resorts swiftly resigned from the company and dumped his stock interest for $2.1 billion. The company has spent years making amends and changes, sorting through the wreckage in multiple gaming jurisdictions, and paying out millions along the way.

All his denials notwithstanding, not many who followed Wynn’s career closely were surprised by the allegations. The Wall Street Journal’s front-page revelations and subsequent investigation by Massachusetts gaming regulators have some people wondering why Nevada regulators weren’t a little more curious years ago.

As former casino executive Richard Schuetz offered on Twitter, “The WSJ and the MGC investigation about Mr. Wynn suggested a long-term pattern of behavior that was well known by many within and around the organization. Nevada regulators now fine and sanction him for behavior they ignored for several decades. That is Gold Standard hypocrisy.”

Wynn, who manipulated state gaming regulators like few licensees for decades, overcoming many controversies that might have sunk others and for many years appearing all but untouchable, is ending his once-charmed career by receiving a decidedly cold shoulder from the GCB.

Per the complaint: “For clarity and the avoidance of doubt, in no event shall [Wynn] have any direct or indirect control, authority, advisory role, or decision-making power” in a Nevada gaming-related company.

Final approval of the settlement was expected at the Nevada Gaming Commission, scheduled for this morning in Carson City.

And then there’s a subject I’ve returned to more than once in recent years, the effort to create a fitting tribute to the victims and survivors of the mass shooting on the Strip on Oct. 1, 2017. This past week, the 1 October Memorial Committee announced that it’s recommending the design concept presented by JCJ Architecture to the Clark County Commission for final approval.

Throughout the process, which has moved more slowly than some would have wanted, the volunteer memorial committee has struck just the right note in understanding the memorial’s importance as a symbol, as well as a sacred ground, for the community and millions of visitors.

As committee Chairman Tennille Pereira put it, “We have deep appreciation for all those involved in expressing their thoughts and ideas about what our memorial should be and to the professional teams that honored our community through the amazing creativity displayed in each of the design concepts presented to us.”

The JCJ design was one of five thoughtful presentations submitted in a process that began in June 2022. All five concepts will continue to be on display through Sept. 7 inside the Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery.