Resorts with admirably progressive policies still offer safe haven and big money to celebrities convicted of domestic abuse
This year got off to an inauspicious start for Chris Brown, the often-embattled R&B singer who pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna in 2009. After spending half of 2014 in and out of prison and treatment facilities because of probation violations stemming from a 2013 assault, in February Brown was denied entry into Canada because of his criminal history, forcing him to cancel several shows.
The images of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice cold-cocking his then-fiancée were still fresh in the public consciousness, casting a heightened spotlight on the issue of domestic violence and sparking calls for tougher consequences for athletes and celebrities. Yet, in that atmosphere, one of the hottest clubs on the Strip was preparing to make Brown their featured performer of 2015.
The fight boxing fans had waited years for, Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao, was coming to MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 2. Despite public protests, Mayweather was welcomed back into the ring after serving two months of a 90-day sentence for battery in 2012.
Drai’s Nightclub at The Cromwell picked the occasion to launch Chris Brown’s residency. The press release trumpeted a “knockout lineup” for the weekend, including 50 Cent, who, in a 2013 deal, pled guilty to vandalism in order to avoid a domestic violence charge. Drai’s was not alone in booking abusers. Tone Loc, who has a 2012 domestic violence conviction, performed Halloween weekend at Paris’ Chateau.
Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts routinely celebrate their progressive corporate policies, including a diversity program at MGM that has won national corporate awards, and Caesars’ pioneering programs for LGBT-friendly workplaces and resorts. But, with public attention aimed at domestic violence, the Strip properties continue booking entertainers with violent pasts, and the public still supports them.
“Mayweather is the poster child for domestic violence in Nevada, and here he is with a banner draped down the MGM declaring ‘Home of the Champion,’” said Melissa Clary, president of the Southern Nevada chapter of National Organization for Women, which helped organize a picket line outside the Mayweather fight. “It contributes to a pattern of objectification and devaluation of women on the Strip.”
Mayweather has been accused multiple times of domestic abuse, has multiple convictions for battery and also pleaded guilty to harassment for threatening his own children.
“Seeing abusers welcomed back as celebrities does impact victims of domestic violence,” said Sue Meuschke, executive director of Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence. “Hotline calls go up whenever there is a big case in the media. What’s even more insidious, I think, is the affirmation that this isn’t a real crime. ‘Nobody’s going to believe what I’ve gone through. No one is going to hold him accountable.’ Those messages come through.”
Nevada ranks fifth nationally for the rate of homicides committed by men against women, according to the Violence Policy Center, and local domestic violence victim advocates were galled by the celebration of not one, but several former abusers.
“If we’re truly serious about doing something about this, we have to not buy tickets,” said Meuschke. “I’d love for casinos to take a stand on their own; that would be great. I don’t see them doing it if it’s not financially advantageous to them.”
Mayweather has never been suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission, which has historically treated drug infractions harsher than violent crimes. It is left to the justice system, which delayed Mayweather’s prison term so he could squeeze in one more fight, to mete out penalties.
The resorts and venues mirror that position. Desert Companion requested interviews with management at Caesars Entertainment, Drai’s Nightclub and MGM Resorts; all declined, issuing email statements instead.
“If a person charged with a crime complies with obligations to the legal system, passes licensure review by state regulators where required, and clears the vetting of a licensed and established event promoter, we will give him or her consideration to perform or compete at our facilities,” an MGM Resorts spokesman said.
Mayweather retired this year, but MGM also routinely hosts bouts for the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, which is reportedly bidding for naming rights of the new MGM arena. At least two current UFC fighters have histories of domestic violence. Anthony Johnson, who fought at MGM Grand on September 5, has been accused by three women of abuse and has one conviction. Abel Trujillo, who fought in a UFC event in Brazil on November 7, has two convictions for domestic violence.
The UFC also declined an interview request, but in a statement the company said: “The (UFC) will not tolerate domestic violence, sexual assault or any other violation of the (Fighter Conduct) Policy. Every athlete is deserving of due process, and all official allegations will be duly reviewed and thoroughly investigated by an independent party.”
Chris Brown, who is still on probation, went on to perform more than a half-dozen times at Drai’s this year, including the busiest party weekends. “We are fully satisfied Chris has paid his debt for any past transgressions and appreciate the professionalism he has displayed,” a spokeswoman for Drai’s said in a statement.
For Memorial Day, in addition to 50 Cent and Brown, Drai’s booked The Weeknd, who, while never tied to violence against women, punched a police officer during a fight at The Cromwell in January.
In September, Brown once again found solace on the Strip when confronted elsewhere with the consequences of his actions. Just a few days after Australia denied Brown’s visa application because of concerns about his character, the singer announced a new residency deal with Drai’s for 2016.