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Encore Boston Harbor president steps down

The Boston Globe

Andy Rosen

October 16, 2019

Wynn Resorts said Wednesday it had replaced the top executive at the Encore Boston Harbor casino, an abrupt shift that comes as the new resort is still trying to find its footing in an increasingly competitive regional market.

Robert DeSalvio, who steered the $2.6 billion Everett project through construction and its first months of operations, will be succeeded by Brian Gullbrants, who had overseen the casino’s hotel and food business as executive vice president of operations.

DeSalvio was a key figure in selling the casino to the public. He had won praise from community leaders and regulators as a straight-shooting, genial executive who could engage easily with people — even opponents of the massive project, which opened in June and employs more than 4,800 people.

But Encore also had to traverse a legal minefield on the way to its opening. And early gambling revenue has fallen short of the high expectations set by its Las Vegas-based parent company, Wynn Resorts, while seeking a license to operate here.

“Sometimes, I guess, businesses like to blame a person for not living up to their initial expectations,” said Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria.

DeMaria said he thought DeSalvio was doing a good job at the helm of a facility that is key to the city’s economic development. “It’s just very unfortunate,” he said.

Wynn Resorts provided few details on DeSalvio’s departure, but the company said in a statement that it was his decision to step down. His last day was Tuesday.

“Bob leaves Encore with a hand-selected team prepared to take on the challenges ahead,” Wynn Resorts chief executive Matt Maddox said in the statement. “I salute him for his commitment to the project and, most importantly, his dedication to his team.”

Wynn Resorts said neither DeSalvio nor Gullbrants was available for interviews Wednesday.

DeSalvio, 63, came to Wynn in March 2014, when it was run by founder Steve Wynn. He had spent the previous eight years opening, then running, a casino in Bethlehem, Pa., that was owned at the time by Las Vegas Sands Corp. Before that, he was executive vice president at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut.

Gullbrants, 52, has a background largely in hotels. He previously was vice president and general manager at the company’s hotels in Las Vegas, and he spent 20 years in operations and management for the the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.

Alan R. Woinski, a New Jersey casino consultant and president of the information company Gaming USA, said he was puzzled by the leadership change.

He said DeSalvio was well-suited for the Everett property because of his knowledge of the Northeastern gambling market and his experience running regional casinos operated by Vegas behemoths.

“If it’s Bob’s decision to leave, I don’t think he’s going to have any problems finding a job anywhere else,” said Woinski, who described himself as a longtime acquaintance of DeSalvio. “Wynn’s going to have a tough time finding someone to replace him.”

He said he did not find the disappointing early revenues to be a major red flag for Encore, noting that they are due largely to slow slot-machine revenues that are in part a result of an increasingly saturated market whose characteristics are out of the control of any single operator.

The glitzy casino has had a relatively smooth first few months in terms of logistics, as fears of traffic problems have largely not materialized. But the casino has lagged behind revenue projections as slot machine profits have remained stubbornly slow.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported this week that Encore brought in $166.8 million between its June 23 opening and the end of September, paying $41.7 million in state taxes. Wynn Resorts told state regulators in 2014 that it expected to take in more than $800 million in gross gaming revenue during its first year.

DeSalvio was the public face of Wynn Resorts in Massachusetts during a challenging time for the company. After a 15-month investigation, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in April fined the company $35 million over its handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Steve Wynn.

Maddox, the company president who took over as chief executive after Wynn resigned in February 2018, was fined $500,000 after the commission decided he should have done more to investigate a complaint about comments Steve Wynn made to employees.

Steve Wynn has denied wrongdoing.

Gullbrants was interviewed during the gambling commission’s investigation about how he handled complaints about Steve Wynn by massage therapists working at one of the company’s Vegas hotels. The commission ultimately found no wrongdoing by Gullbrants and issued the necessary approvals for him to work as an executive at Encore.

In a statement, members of the gambling commission said that DeSalvio “consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to working with community stakeholders and played a critical role in key areas such as diversity and transportation planning throughout the construction and opening process.”

“As regulators, we value a positive working relationship with our licensees and look forward to working with Mr. Gullbrants on the important work that lies ahead,” the statement said.

Stephen P. Crosby, the former chairman of the commission who left in September 2018, said in an interview that DeSalvio had built a relationship of trust and respect with the commission.

“He was a fabulous ambassador for his company and his industry,” Crosby said. “He’s open, he’s collaborative, he’s patient — which you need a lot of in this business.”

Public officials who have worked with Encore say they came to know DeSalvio well but had not yet spent much time with Gullbrants.

“I’m disappointed to see this happening, because he was just a person that we could just call anytime and he would have answers for us,” said state Senator Sal N. DiDomenico, who represents Everett in the Legislature.

“Not just me, but anyone, really, who he came into contact with. It didn’t matter if you held an office or a title, or were just a person who was visiting the facility.”

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