Hong Kong man seeks $328M from Las Vegas Sands
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is squaring off for the second time with a Hong Kong businessman who says he's owed $328 million for helping Las Vegas Sands Corp. win a gambling license in the Chinese enclave of Macau.
The case turns on whether meetings Richard Suen set up between Sands executives and Beijing officials in 2001 helped the company get a foothold in Macau, a special administrative region of China.
Suen said he was hired by Las Vegas Sands to help build relationships with the Chinese government and should be compensated for his success.
Sands attorneys argue that Suen is owed nothing because he didn't make good on his promise to help the company. Sands argues that officials in Macau, not Beijing, decide which companies to license.
The trial begins Wednesday in Las Vegas, and Adelson, CEO of Sands, is expected to begin his testimony Thursday.
It's the second time this fight has played out in a Clark County court.
A jury decided in Suen's favor in 2008, awarding him $58.6 million. But the Nevada Supreme Court overturned that judgment two years later.
The Supreme Court ruled that the district judge should not have admitted hearsay statements during the trial and should have instructed the jury that it could assume the government was operating as it is supposed to.
Suen filed the civil lawsuit in 2004 after failing to reach a compensation agreement with Sands. He said he and his company were promised a $5 million success fee and 2 percent of net casino profits in exchange for helping Sands open its first casino in Macau.
Suen says he arranged for Adelson to meet Chinese officials including Vice Premier Qian Qichen and Beijing Mayor Liu Qi.
He is asking for more than three times the amount of compensation he requested during the 2008 trial because of Sands' explosive success in Macau. His legal team calculated that Suen is owed $328 million based on expected profits over the life of Sands' 20-year Macau license.
The company partnered with Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment in February 2002 and was awarded one of three gambling licenses by the Macau government. The companies could not reach an agreement, however, and the partnership was dissolved.
Macau then awarded Las Vegas Sands a subconcession, a decision that Suen's lawyers said was a result of their client's earlier lobbying.
The Sands legal team is expected to call an expert witness who will testify that Beijing officials do not hold sway over the licensing process in Macau.
The trial is expected to last about a month.
If Suen is again victorious, Sands is unlikely to suffer any real consequences, according to Michael Paladino, an analyst at Fitch Ratings in New York.
"In terms of Las Vegas Sands' overall liquidity and profile, it's like a drop in the bucket," he said. "It's really not a big deal when you're talking about those types of numbers."
Las Vegas Sands has opened four resorts in Macau's Cotai Strip area, which now contribute about 60 percent of the company's revenue. Sands also owns The Venetian and the Palazzo casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
Sands spokesman Ron Reese and Suen's attorney John O'Malley both declined to comment.
Sands' attorneys asked a judge in March to ban video and still photography from the courtroom during Adelson's testimony because of safety concerns.
Local media asked that the request be denied, and on Tuesday the judge ruled that video, photography and live feeds would be allowed in court.
Suen's suit is the latest in a series of claims brought by businessmen who say they helped Sands win favor in Macau.
In 2009, the company paid $42.5 million to three men who said they helped the company obtain its license.
Taiwanese-American businessman Marshall Hao is suing Sands in Macau, alleging that Sands breached its contract with his company by secretly teaming up with another partner to bid for a Macau license. Hao is seeking what would have been his share of the profits had he partnered successfully with Sands.
Macau, an hour west of Hong Kong by ferry, is the world's biggest gambling market. It's the only place in China where casino gambling is legal.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier .