By Sue Zeidler and Ronald Grover
March 7 (Reuters) - Wynn Resorts Ltd and its one-time largest shareholder, Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada, have established battle lines for their latest skirmish.
The Las Vegas casino company plans to convene a special meeting of its shareholders to try and jettison Okada from its board. The pachinko and slot-machine mogul, for his part, is suing to gain access to the company’s financial records and his lawyers will square off against Wynn’s in a Vegas court on Thursday.
“Steve Wynn and his board of directors is once more subverting the corporate governance process to carry out the predetermined judgment of Mr. Wynn,” a spokesman for Okada’s Universal Entertainment Corp said in a statement provided to Reuters.
“Mr. Okada is committed to protecting his interests and intends to take the appropriate actions to do so.”
The falling-out between two self-made tycoons -- Wynn founder and Chief Executive Officer Steve Wynn and Okada -- bounded into the public spotlight in January.
That month, Okada opened hostilities by filing a lawsuit against Wynn for blocking his access to financial documents related to a $135 million donation by Wynn Resorts to the University of Macau.
Both sides will face off in a Las Vegas court on Thursday related to Okada’s lawsuit involving the donation, which triggered an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Wynn Resorts has already forcibly redeemed Okada’s nearly 20 percent stake in the company after an internal investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh revealed that Okada - who made his fortune from pachinko and is CEO of Universal Entertainment - had violated U.S. anti-corruption laws.
On Feb. 24, the board of Wynn Resort’s majority owned Wynn Macau casino voted to remove Okada from its board.
Now, parent Wynn Resorts is required to hold a shareholder meeting to eject Okada.
There are currently 12 members on the Wynn Resorts board of directors, including Wynn and Okada. Four of them -- Wynn himself, Linda Chen, president of subsidiary Wynn International Marketing Ltd, Wynn Resorts COO Marc Schorr and Allan Zeman, a Hong Kong billionaire -- are also members of Wynn Macau Ltd’s board, which has already ejected Okada.
The ongoing dispute between too former friends has cast a spotlight on the global casino industry.
Wynn and Okada accuse each other of making improper payments to foreign gaming regulators to win favor in Wynn’s Macau market and Okada’s Philippines operations, and the acrimony has attracted the attention of regulators and investors worldwide.
In a filing with the SEC, Wynn Resorts said it was necessary from a gaming regulatory standpoint to remove Okada and that failure to remove him would pose a material risk to the company.
Stockholders of record on March 30 will be entitled to vote on the proposal, Wynn Resorts said in a statement.
Under Nevada law and Wynn Resorts’ bylaws, the casino company needs two-thirds of its shareholders to agree to remove Okada as a director.