Fontainebleau “Quiet Fires” President, Here’s What Everyone Missed
There’s never a dull moment in Las Vegas, and Fontainebleau is ensuring that flawless track record continues with the “quiet firing” of its president, Mark Tricano. A new president has been named, Maurice Wooden.
As usual, our local media parroted what they were told, pretty much verbatim. “Verbatim,” of course, is derived from a Latin word meaning, “We’ve given up trying to journalism.”
Never fear. We are here to connect some dots, stir the pot and give you a take you can pretend you came up with all on your own for TikTok, your podcast or YouTube channel. You know who you are.
The first thing local media missed is Fontainebleau distributed its news release announcing Maurice Wooden’s hiring on a Sunday.
In case you haven’t worked in public relations or media, that’s what’s known as a “news dump.” Companies release information they’d prefer not be widely covered by media outlets on weekends (most often, on Friday afternoons). Sunday news gets even more buried than Friday afternoon news.
Anyway, Fontainebleau’s strategy was to have this story pass unnoticed because it involves several awkward elements. Mainly, Fontainebleau doesn’t want this change of leadership to further the narrative that the newly-opened resort is in a state of chaos due to a toxic culture, despite there being ample evidence that’s the case.
To help tamp down the dot-connecting, Fontainebleau says Mark Tricano will stay on at the resort, reporting to Maurice Wooden. In other words, give it a minute. Tricano isn’t going to stick around to play second fiddle to another president. He’ll discreetly move on in the next few months.
Virtually all of Fontainebleau’s key executives have been fired or resigned, some since opening (Dec. 13, 2023), many prior to the resort opening. Here’s the list.
Mark Tricano, President
Colleen Birch, Chief Operating Officer
Shane Smith, Chief Marketing Officer
Daniel Espino, Chief People Officer/Chief Culture Officer
Angie Dobney, Vice President of Revenue Management and CRM
Michael Clifford, Senior V.P. of Casino Operations
Cliff Atkinson, President
Dan Cherry, Senior V.P. of Casino Operations
Stephen Singer, Chief Financial Officer
Marc Guarino, Chief Technology Officer
Dianna Balabon, Acting Chief Marketing Officer
Technically, Brett Mufson was president for a minute, but that was considered a placeholder between Atkinson and Tricano. Here’s how it went down.
We’ve written about all the executive departures in more detail, but the list on its own is pretty impactful.
What else did media reports miss? Well, they universally ignored the fact Fontainebleau’s president, Maurice Wooden, is controversial.
By all accounts, Wooden is well-respected as a casino executive, having previously been the president of Wynn Las Vegas. That pedigree is a blessing and a curse, however. Maurice Wooden was running Wynn and Encore during the Steve Wynn scandal, and was allegedly among the people who enabled Steve Wynn’s sexual harassment, the behavior that resulted in the craziest fall from grace in recorded history.
Wooden was a die-hard Wynn loyalist, and helped circle the wagons in defense of Steve Wynn. His office was believed to have been a black hole of harassment complaints, with Wooden and others ensuring such complaints never saw the light of day.
Notice posted for employees at the Wynn Las Vegas: “We are all supportive of Mr. Wynn and his leadership, and while it is unfortunate that the news media has been used to assault Mr. Wynn and us in this way, we are doing everything we can to protect our employees” pic.twitter.com/8vIVYkhyjW
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) January 28, 2018
Eventually, the house of cards came crashing down, with Wooden and others largely escaping accountability and Steve Wynn taking the rap alone. Hint: Everyone knew.
The point being Fontainebleau probably prefers to have the Wynn saga glossed over, because they really need the help of a president with Wooden’s skill set. (All due respect to Mark Tricano, but everyone thought he might be over his head in this position. Lots of experience in gaming, but most at the V.P. and General Manager level.)
Other news outlets have missed a huge aspect of the hiring of Maurice Wooden: Can he be licensed?
After news of Wooden’s hiring broke, we got that question from at least three top casino executives who have gone through the process themselves.
The truth is the Gaming Control Board is under a lot of scrutiny at the moment, due to a scandal involving former Resorts World President Scott Sibella, who pled guilty to compliance violations while at MGM Grand and Cosmopolitan. Nevada regulators apparently knew about Sibella’s questionable dealings, but did nothing, so it was left up to the feds to pursue the issue.
Why does that matter? It matters because if Gaming is being scrutinized, they’ll be under pressure to not sweep things under the rug. Which means Wooden is in for some tough questions, and Fontainebleau has set itself up for yet another potential public embarrassment if the Gaming Control Board deems Wooden unsuitable. (Their punishments can be harsh. Steve Wynn can’t set foot on Wynn Las Vegas property, the resort with his own name on it, ever.)
Why would Fontainebleau do that?
It’s because the pool of experienced, president-level casino executives isn’t that big to begin with, and even fewer are willing to dive headlong into this pool full of piranhas wearing what amounts to a Spam banana hammock.
Did you see the list of fired and resigned executives? The people Fontainebleau can attract are now the ones with few other options, or who have nothing to lose.
How do you think Mark Frissora ended up CEO of Caesars Entertainment after being kicked to the curb at Hertz for all the accounting shenanigans?
What happens if Maurice Wooden can’t get licensed? We trust Fontainebleau has Bill McBeath on speed-dial. If speed-dial is still a thing. McBeath, a former scoundrel and crony of Steve Wynn, turned Cosmo around, but even he would have an uphill battle at Fontainebleau. McBeath would be very expensive, as he is estimated to have personally made $75-100 million from the Cosmo sale.
Before we forget, there’s another aspect of this story the media missed.
If the name Maurice Wooden sounds familiar, it’s because he was announced as President of Luxury Hotel Development for Fertitta Entertainment. Wooden was overseeing the development of Tilman Fertitta’s new casino resort planned for the Las Vegas Strip. Yes, we shared the scoop about this resort months before anyone else, but not everything is about us.
What does Maurice Wooden’s departure from the Tilman Fertitta project mean? It means the Fertitta project is dead. Which is almost as big a story as when the project was confirmed, but in a sad way.
Back to Fontainebleau. As we’ve shared previously, Fontainebleau has three seemingly insurmountable problems: 1) No foot traffic, 2) no casino database, 3) no hotel database.
Those aren’t the biggest hurdles for Fontainebleau, though: That’s Fontainebleau Development CEO Jeffrey Soffer.
What others haven’t said: Soffer hired Wooden because Soffer wants Fontainebleau to be Wynn, and Soffer wants to be Steve Wynn.
We’ve given Soffer and his deep-pocket partners, Koch Real Estate Investments, props for opening Fontainebleau. It’s a miracle, really, as the resort sat idle for nearly two decades.
But Soffer is burning through executive talent like Chippendales dancers go through white T-shirts. No, you can’t call them “wife-beaters” anymore, despite the fact that joke would’ve been 26% funnier using that term. They’re called “wife-pleasers” now. We are not making this up.
Fontainebleau’s “growing pains” excuse is wearing thin, and good executives are being hobbled by unrealistic expectations and Soffer’s heavy-handed, “my way or the highway” management style.
One of the biggest missteps in the history of Las Vegas was Fontainebleau’s opening: It wasn’t a casino opening, it was a private birthday party for Jeffrey Soffer. High rollers reportedly couldn’t get VIP suites because they were taken up by friends and family of Fontainebleau executives. Justin Timberlake had to stay at Wynn after his $6 million private show at Soffer’s birthday party. What in the actual fruit cup were they thinking?
Sadly, layoffs are next. Then, in mid-2025, Fontainebleau has to service its debt (the first two payments, in 2024, are pre-paid). Then the lenders (Fontainebleau cost $3.7 billion) get a haircut, then Chapter 11, then the place gets sold.
All this, despite being an incredible resort. Did we mention that? Yes, two things can be true at once. The Sphere is incredible, and also financially doomed. You can be a brilliant casino president and still have terrible lapses in judgment. Wayne Newton can be an icon, and you can also not want him to ever sing again.
You can love Fontainebleau, and root for its success, while marveling at its deep and abiding trainwreckery.
The glorious drama at Fontainebleau is far from over. (Marginally-related: You’ll want to catch up on Nachogate.) We’ll be watching.
Update (2/8/24) In related drama, Brett Mufson, President of Fontainebleau Development, has been mentioned in relation to a criminal investigation by the Justice Department in addition to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Predictably, local media and the Nevada Gaming Control Board have been mum on the looming scandal, despite us handing it to them on a silver platter. Nothing to see here.
— Vital Vegas (@VitalVegas) February 14, 2024
Update (2/15/24): In case you missed it, we said, “To help tamp down the dot-connecting, Fontainebleau says Mark Tricano will stay on at the resort, reporting to Maurice Wooden. In other words, give it a minute.” Mark Tricano is out at Fontainebleau and has taken a position as Senior V.P. of Operations for Station Casinos.