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Keller @ Large: When It's Casino Vs. State, Encore Holds The Winning Hand

BOSTON (CBS) - The $35 million fine levied against the owners of the new Encore Casino in Everett by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for their handling of the Steve Wynn scandal dwarfed the $20 million punishment extracted by Nevada authorities.

"We, the entire commission, were profoundly disturbed by repeated systemic failures and the pervasive culture of non-disclosure," said MGC Chairman Cathy Judd-Stein.

But the punishment for the company that failed to seriously investigate or reveal to Massachusetts regulators serious claims of sexual misconduct against Wynn is raising questions for Gov. Charlie Baker, the man who signed off on key permits for the massive new casino and hand-picked Judd-Stein to oversee the MGC.

Encore Boston Harbor (WBZ-TV)

"A mere $35 million fine on a company with a market cap of nearly $16 billion - doesn't that send a message to other big-money, bad actors that they can make a farce of Massachusetts regulations and walk away with a slap on the wrist?" we asked Baker in an interview Wednesday at the WBZ studios.

"It's definitely a slap," he said. "With respect to whether it's a slap on the wrist or a slap in the face, I don't know. ... I do think this will be a message for other jurisdictions in which Wynn or any of these other companies operate. They did get rid of the vast majority of the board of directors; obviously, Steve Wynn stepped down."

But with their economic leverage established, what happens if and when Encore seeks relief from restrictive state regulations?

"How are we going to stand up to them down the road if they come back looking for more givebacks?" we asked.

Gov. Charlie Baker
Gov. Charlie Baker (WBZ-TV)

"Well, so far there's been a lot of back and forth about other elements associated with this, and I think the legislature's been pretty good about that," said Baker. "I do think the issue you're raising is a good one. From our point of view, we're gonna look very dimly on legislation that's gonna change much of anything associated with this."

The truth is, there was no way the state was going to pull the plug on thousands of jobs and millions in revenue from Encore Everett. But in every relationship, there's a balance of power.

And for now, when it comes to regulating this massive new business, it appears to be Encore that holds the winning hand.

Watch Jon Keller's interview with Gov. Baker this Sunday morning at 8:30am on the WBZ Morning News


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