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Looking the Other Way

A money-laundering scandal besmirches MGM Resorts International. By David McKee

If we know, we can’t allow them to gamble.” With those words, Scott Sibella, former president of MGM Grand and Resorts World Las Vegas, admitted his guilt in a money-laundering scheme during his tenure at MGM.
Sibella’s crime was to allow (since-convicted) illegal bookmaker Wayne Nix to gamble at the Grand using “illicit funds” gained via his sports betting operation, during the years 2017-9. Sibella admitted to prosecutors that he knew the source of the money but “didn’t want to know” lest he lose a high roller.
“I didn’t ask, I didn’t want to know I guess because he wasn’t doing anything to cheat the casino,” Sibella said, by way of rationalizing his inaction. For his crime, he faces a possible five years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000. The latter may seem small compared to the money involved in the case: Nix was permitted to wager—and lose—over $4 million in cash at MGM casinos.
Nix was also the recipient of free rooms, meals and golfing excursion, value unspecified. During the golf trips, Nix mingled with other high-ranking MGM executives.

The $7.5 million excuse

By way of defending what he did, Sibella excused his conduct on the grounds that “I took no action for my personal benefit or inurement.” Even so, he violated the Bank Secrecy Act. Stated Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Tyler Hatcher, “While president of MGM Grand, Mr. Sibella undermined the trust and confidence of his employees, customers and regulating agencies, and for that he will be held accountable.”
His actions have already been costly both to MGM Grand and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which have paid a $7.5 million fine to cover their culpability. Nix faces sentencing on March 6 for a variety of crimes, while Sibella’s day in court comes May 8. The 
Cosmopolitan was not yet owned by MGM at the time of its miscreant actions (parallel to Sibella’s). A Cosmopolitan host knew Nix’s money was tainted but let him play $928,600 anyway.
Veteran columnist Ken Adams queried Sibella’s behavior, noting that he “was one of the highest-paid executives in Las Vegas. Why would he risk that for Nix or any other gambler? Did he think he was untouchable and could do anything and not be punished?”

A troubled tenure

Following his tenure at MGM Grand, Sibella took the presidency of Resorts World Las Vegas, overseeing that megaresort’s opening. According to Adams, it was “a troubled project, plagued by recessions, lawsuits, construction issues, and design problems.” He was fired from that job last autumn for unspecified violations of corporate policy. The firing came at a time when both Sibella and Resorts World were under intense federal scrutiny.
According to reporter Dana Gentry, aforesaid probes also extended to Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo. Under Sibella, Resorts World Las Vegas gave its full financial support to Lombardo’s upset gubernatorial bid against then-governor Steve Sisolak, although Sisolak had provided a blanket waiver that allowed Resorts World to continue construction throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even as his guilt was being adjudicated, Sibella was angling for a new job in the casino business. He stated, “As this process comes to a conclusion, I look forward to continuing to provide my knowledge, skills and insights to support the continued growth, evolution and professionalism of the gaming industry.”

A Sibella comeback?

It could happen. Nevada regulators, who previously pronounced Sibella “vindicated” of charges of associating with undesirable gamblers at MGM Grand and Resorts World, said only that they were “monitoring” the plea deal. The Nevada Gaming Control Board had knowledge of Sibella-related wrongdoing back in 2019 but did nothing, as did then-MGM CEO Jim Murren.
Sibella now bears a felony rap sheet, something which has barred other casino aspirants from carrying out their Sin City dreams. However, any position not requiring a gaming license is open to someone with a felony conviction, giving the industry a great deal of leeway with regards to its former star, who even headlined an episode of the CBS-TV series “Undercover Boss.”
Still, could more ‘felony shoes’ be about to drop? “Casual attitudes about anti-money laundering compliance are dangerous,” an industry source told the Nevada Current’s Dana Gentry. “This could be just the tip of the iceberg.”
Added a former Control Board employee, “It sounds silly, but pleading guilty is better than not and then being found guilty later. And this sounds backwards, but he has a better chance of getting licensed than he does of someone hiring him at this point.”
Or, as former Stratosphere president and California regulator Richard Schuetz put it, “I would be a bit surprised if there are a lot of people waving job offers at him, with the current state of information.” Sibella himself has been keeping largely mum. He told the Current in early October that the truth behind his Resorts World dismissal was “coming soon.” No explanation has followed.