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Wynn Resorts shrinks board; seeks vote on Okada

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Wynn Resorts Ltd. is seeking shareholder approval to remove Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada from its board.

The casino operator said Thursday that it is calling a special meeting of shareholders to vote on the removal of Okada based on concerns about improper conduct. It is part of an ongoing battle between former friends and business partners Okada and company CEO Steve Wynn.

Okada used to be Wynn Resorts' single largest shareholder but the company tried to forcibly buy back his shares after it said it found that Okada made improper payments to overseas gambling regulators. The two have traded accusations of unethical or illegal conduct during the extended legal, and seemingly personal, dispute.

Wynn said its board has already deemed Okada unsuitable. It said a lengthy investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh uncovered evidence of improper conduct in connection with Okada dealings with Philippine officials.

Representatives for Okada's companies — Universal Entertainment Corp., based in Japan, and Aruze USA, based in Las Vegas — could not be reached for comment on behalf of Okada on Thursday.

Wynn Resorts also said Thursday that it is reducing the overall size of its board and increasing the percentage of independent directors as it tries to expand into new jurisdictions. The company had a 12-member board and has reduced it to nine members. If Okada is removed, that will shrink to eight.

The company said that Russell Goldsmith and Allan Zeman have stepped down from the board to devote more time to their other business commitments. Zeman will continue to serve as vice chairman of Wynn Macau Ltd. and as a director of that business as well. Directors Linda Chen and Marc Schorr have stepped down to reduce the number of inside directors but will continue to serve as executives of the company and on the board of its Macau business.

Wynn Resorts said it is adding Jay Hagenbuch, chairman and founder of investment firms M&H Realty Partners and WestLand Capital Partners, to its board as an independent director and a member of the audit committee.

"By streamlining the board and eliminating an unsuitable director, the company will be well positioned to capitalize on the enormous opportunities in the market and execute our ambitious expansion plans," Chairman and CEO Wynn said in a statement.

The company is seeking regulatory approval to open casinos in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. This would not be possible with "an unsuitable director" and the company will benefit from a streamlined board with greater independent representation, Wynn said.

Wynn Resorts operates luxury hotels and resorts in Las Vegas and Macau. Its shares rose 76 cents to close at $114.22 and were unchanged in after-hours trading on the news.