US$43m award over casino row

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 May, 2008, 12:00am

A Las Vegas court has awarded US$43.8 million to Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen Chi-tat as compensation for his efforts to help casino developer Las Vegas Sands win a Macau gaming licence in 2002.

The decision by the eight-member jury in Clark County District Court - announced at the weekend after a five-week hearing - marks a significant legal setback for Las Vegas Sands and chairman and majority shareholder Sheldon Adelson, the world's 12th richest man as ranked by Forbes.

Mr Adelson has in recent years battled lawsuits filed by four separate groups claiming they were owed compensation for helping Las Vegas Sands win a gaming licence in Macau.

Lawyers for Mr Suen and his Hong Kong-registered firm Round Square said he helped arrange meetings between executives from the casino firm and top central government and Beijing municipal government officials.

Mr Suen said his efforts included arranging a July 2001 meeting in Beijing between Mr Adelson and then vice-premier Qian Qichen to discuss the central government's vision for Macau, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In another meeting the same month with then-Beijing mayor Liu Qi , Mr Adelson was asked to help China in its bid to host the 2008 Olympics, the paper quoted him saying in court.

A non-binding statement of opposition to the bid was making its way through the US Congress at the time, and Mr Adelson testified that following the Beijing meeting he called 'four or five' congressmen he knew, according to the ReviewJournal.

The bill did not make it to the floor of the House

In return for setting up the Beijing meetings and other efforts on behalf of Las Vegas Sands, Mr Suen claimed in his suit filed in October 2004 that he was promised a US$5 million success fee and 2 per cent of net profits for the 20-year life of the gaming licence from the firm's Macau operations if the bid proved successful. His lawyers were seeking US$100 million in compensation.

Las Vegas Sands and Galaxy Entertainment were jointly awarded a Macau gaming licence on February 8, 2002.

The 6-2 jury vote to award the compensation to Mr Suen marks the first time Las Vegas Sands has lost one of the lawsuits pertaining to its bid for a Macau casino licence. Lawyers for the world's largest gaming company by market value were previously successful against two such suits filed in the US and may appeal against the decision in the Suen case.

A fourth, ongoing suit was filed in Clark county in 2006 by Macau citizen Jose Cheong Vai-chi (also known as Cliff Cheong) and Americans Clive Basset Jones and Darryl Steven Turok. The suit is tentatively set for jury trial in December.