Wynn gets to grill Okada in fight for control of casino empire

US gaming mogul may find out what he is up against in fight for control of US$10 billion empire as rival is forced to answer questions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 4:10am

Gaming mogul Steve Wynn may gain an edge in his courtroom battle for control of a US$10 billion casino empire as business-partner-turned-rival Kazuo Okada is forced to answer questions from Wynn Resorts' lawyers.

The Japanese pachinko magnate's court-ordered deposition, set for September 18 in Las Vegas, will mark the first time Okada will face Wynn's lawyers after the casino operator's board forcibly redeemed his 20 per cent stake in the company at an US$800 million discount.

"This is a tactical victory for the Wynn side," said Matthew Close, a lawyer who is not involved in the case. "Depositions can be case-defining."

The questioning of Okada under oath may show Wynn what he is up against as he wages multiple legal battles to keep control of the company he started with Okada 10 years ago that operates casinos in Las Vegas and Macau.

Wynn, the company's chairman and chief executive, also faces challenges from his former wife, who wants to sell her 10 per cent stake in the company, and scrutiny by the US Securities and Exchange Commission of a HK$1 billion donation last year to the University of Macau.

The Wynn Resorts board said Okada was "unsuitable" under Nevada gaming law as a controlling shareholder, claiming he made improper gifts and payments to officials in the Philippines where he is building a casino resort. The deposition stems from Okada's attempt, as a Wynn Resorts director, to gain access to corporate files going back as far as 2000 related to the company's efforts to get a casino licence in Macau.

Wynn's lawyers have said Okada is trying to dig up evidence for a so-called "unclean hands" defence that Wynn improperly courted officials in Macau, just as he accuses Okada of having done in the Philippines.

The deposition, which will take place behind closed doors, can be used as evidence in court, where Wynn and Okada are also squaring off in a separate lawsuit before the same judge over the alleged breach of fiduciary duty by Okada that prompted Wynn Resorts' board to redeem his 24.5 million shares.

"The deposition will show whether or not Mr Okada currently has any facts and evidence to support his claims against the Wynn side," Close said. "If the Okada team does not have those facts now, it will certainly colour the litigation going forward and the Okada side will face an uphill battle on their unclean hands arguments."

Okada met Wynn while selling gaming devices in Nevada, according to a court filing. In 2000, the Japanese businessman invested US$260 million for a 50 per cent stake in a predecessor company to Wynn Resorts. Two years later, Okada invested an additional US$120 million and became vice-chairman of Wynn Resorts.