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Peaceable divorce dissolves into proxy war

When Steve and Elaine Wynn divorced five years ago, it was said by some at the time to be the most expensive divorce in U.S. history. They amicably split down the middle his portion of the famous Las Vegas casino and hotel business they had co-founded.

But the friendliness of their parting may itself be falling apart, as Elaine Wynn fights for her seat on the board of the $13 billion Wynn Resorts she and her ex-husband built during their 46-year marriage.

“We’re still partners in the business,” Steve Wynn said months after the divorce. “I respect and value and really covet her opinion on issues.” At the time, he had agreed without a fight to divide his Wynn Resorts holdings with Elaine, as well as giving her first choice from their renowned art collection.

That was then. The fight for her seat on the board is now. The board has recommended eliminating her seat but she is challenging assertions that she has conflicts of interest that render her incapable of serving shareholders.

“I am the DNA of Wynn Resorts,” she said recently. Despite her claim, she has made it known that she wants control over her sizable portion of stock in the company, a move that could diminish her ex-husband’s ability to control the casino-resort juggernaut.

She counters that she has no desire to shift the balance of power, but does want to be able to control her own stock and perhaps sell some of it to fund her philanthropy. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Wynn is contractually obligated to support her candidacy to remain on the board regardless of his personal wishes.”

We’ll see how the battle turns out during a late April shareholder meeting here in Las Vegas.

It’s disappointing to see a marital split that serves as a template for amicable high-asset divorce dissolve into a power struggle years later.

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