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“Girls Gone Wild” creator must pay $20 million to Steve Wynn

Casino magnate wins slander suit

Photo courtesy of Wynn Las Vegas

Billionaire casino and resort mogul Steve Wynn just won big.

Yesterday, a jury awarded Wynn $20 million in damages in his defamation lawsuit against “Girls Gone Wild” creator Joe Francis.

Beginning in April 2010, Francis began publicly accusing Wynn of threatening via email to kill him with a shovel and bury him in the desert over a $2 million gambling debt. Wynn denied Francis’ allegations and sued him for defamation, claiming the maker of the sleazy movie series was ruining his reputation.

In August, Francis described Wynn’s purportedly hostile emails on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” saying they made him afraid for his life. But during trial, which ended yesterday, famed music producer Quincy Jones, who was supposed to be a key witness for the defense, testified that he had never actually seen any emails from Wynn threatening to kill Francis. Then, Francis admitted he never actually saw any emails either.

The jury awarded Wynn $20 million in damages for emotional distress and reputational damage. The amount is $8 million more than Wynn’s lawyers had sought. The jury also found that Francis acted maliciously, which means he could pay additional punitive damages that will be determined during the second phase of the trial, which begins today.

Francis told the Associated Press that he expects the most recent verdict to be overturned on appeal because of judicial error. He says jurors shouldn’t have been allowed to consider a new claim of slander based on his “Good Morning America” interview, which was filmed after the trial began.

Wynn’s victory yesterday is No. 3 in his legal scuffle with Francis. Earlier this year, Wynn won $7.5 million against Francis in a separate defamation suit in which Francis accused Wynn of cheating his high-end casino customers. And in another civil suit, Wynn was able to recover the gambling debt Francis had accumulated, plus interest.

For more details on Wynn’s win, read ABC News and Reuters.

Meanwhile, Wynn is embroiled in another legal battle with Japanese gaming investor Kazuo Okata, who once was the largest shareholder in Wynn Resorts Ltd. Earlier this year, Wynn sued Okada for allegedly planning to construct rival casinos.

For more InsideCounsel stories on the Wynn-Okada battle, read:

Okada amends counterclaim against Wynn, accuses GC of racketeering

Okada sues Wynn for $800 million

Casino kings lob FCPA violation accusations

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