Wynn Resorts co-founder Kazuo Okada says he was kicked out because Steve Wynn feared losing control of the company due to ongoing divorce proceedings with ex-wife Elaine.
In the second part of his lengthy interview with Inside Asian Gaming, to appear in the upcoming November edition this week, Okada details the fractured relationship with his former business partner and the background of their sudden split in 2012, when Wynn Resorts removed him as a director and forcibly redeemed his shares at what Okada says was a US$900 million discount.
The Japanese businessman points to a range of factors as being behind that decision, including his questioning of a proposed US$130 million donation by Wynn Resorts to the University of Macau, but first and foremost Okada blames Steve Wynn’s divorce for his eventual ouster.
“The initial discussions that took place with Mr Wynn was with the understanding that we would go 50-50 – 50% on the funds and 50% on the number of directors,” Okada recalls.
“The discussions were relatively simple and I welcomed that. I wanted to keep the story very simple.
“At the beginning, things were working very well. I think he appreciated the fact that I was a relatively silent investor, not complaining very much, not putting too much input into things.
“But in 2011, with his divorce taking place, his wife was going to take 50% of his shares. Initially it was 50-50 shares between him and me, but with his wife about to take half of Steve Wynn’s 50%, I would then become the controlling shareholder.”
Despite Wynn’s concerns, Okada tells IAG he never had any plans of taking over Wynn Resorts and, long before Okada Manila became a reality, had instead hoped Wynn would join him in developing a Philippines IR.
“I had no initial plans of wanting to take over, but Steve Wynn – basically fearing that he was going to lose control – did anything within his power, including using the Freeh report [a report by ex-FBI director Louis Freeh which found that some former Universal employees of Okada’s Universal Entertainment made alleged payments to a PACGOR official] to basically slander and rub dirt and make me look negative and a criminal, in order to drive me out so that he would not lose control.
“Even when I initially started asking him to get involved, I had thought that if the Philippine project was successful, having 50% of Wynn Resorts alongside that success was enough. Wynn Resorts would profit from an expanded operation in the Philippines and so Wynn Resorts would be a bigger and stronger company. Having a 50% share of a bigger and stronger company would be enough for me.
“I think the situation was also compounded by the fact that, up until then, I was the silent investor – I didn’t really raise any issues, didn’t raise any challenges – but now I raised a question regarding his thoughts about making the donation to University of Macau. I suspect it was also compounded with the timing that he was about to split with his wife.”
Okada said that he saw a noticeable change in Steve Wynn in the years after they first came together.
“When we first met, he was more down-to-earth, more laid back. He was very respectful. There are things [he’s] being accused of that in the early times, he wasn’t like that,” Okada says. “Granted, after the explosive success that Wynn Resorts had, perhaps it went a little to his head … he became a little full of himself.”
The full interview with Okada will be published in the upcoming November edition of Inside Asian Gaming.