US court deals major blow to Las Vegas Sands in case of Macau gaming licence
Nevada court’s ruling suggests Beijing did help firm get licence in former Portuguese colony
A Hong Kong businessman who brokered meetings between senior Chinese officials and top casino executives did help Las Vegas Sands secure a gaming licence in Macau, a top court in the United States has ruled.
The Supreme Court of Nevada’s decision almost brings to an end a 12-year legal tussle between Richard Suen Chi-tat and Las Vegas Sands and effectively suggests Beijing influenced the Macau government’s decision to grant a casino licence to the company headed by tycoon Sheldon Adelson.
It also comes at a sensitive time for all six gaming operators in the former Portuguese enclave, as the 2019 start date for gaming licence re-tendering looms large.
The decision was bittersweet for Suen and his company Round Square as the court also ruled there was not enough evidence to justify an initial US$70 million payout to them, ordering a new trial to decide the amount, adding the US$1 million offered by Las Vegas Sands was also inadequate.
The court said Suen helped Sands by translating papers and preparing and delivering a report on the company to Qian Qichen, China’s former vice-premier.
Suen also used his connections to reach out to “important government contacts in Beijing” and “get permission for Adelson’s plane to land in Beijing,’’ it said.
Adelson, 79, claimed during his trial testimony that Suen, a friend of his younger brother Lenny, contributed nothing to the company’s being licensed.
Lawyers for Sands argued that the Macau government made its decisions independently of the central government.
But Suen claimed the central government breached Macau’s Basic Law to ensure that Sands got a licence.
The supreme court ruling came just weeks before the September 13 opening of Las Vegas Sands’ US$2.9 billion, 3,000-room resort, The Parisian, on Macau’s Cotai Strip.
A gaming industry consultant, who asked not to be named, said: “The timing isn’t great for Sands. They are about to open The Parisian and are hoping to be awarded new gaming tables, which is a sensitive issue.”
“It will be a gift for their local competitors, who have been lobbying against the dominance of this American company in the table allocation. Also, anyone in government who is starting to evaluate the company for concession renewal, with new tenders expected in 2019, will likely be looking at this.”
Sands spokesman Ron Reese said: “Sands has said throughout that Suen provided no value in the company receiving its licence in Macau.”
Two months ago Las Vegas Sands Corp reached a confidential settlement with former top executive of its Macau operations Steven Jacobs after a protracted six-year legal spat.
The legal tug of war began in 2010 when Jacobs sued Sands for wrongful termination, claiming he was fired “for blowing the whistle on improprieties and placing the interests of shareholders above those of [Sheldon] Adelson.”
Adelson countersued and has repeatedly denied Jacobs’ allegations throughout.
Additional reporting by Reuters