Las Vegas Sands owes a middleman for its gaming licence in Macau, which the casino operator's founder and chairman Sheldon Adelson called the "brass ring in the merry-go-round", according to a lawyer for Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen.
Opening statements started on Wednesday in state court in Las Vegas in a second trial over Suen's allegations that Adelson breached a 2001 agreement to pay him and his associates US$5 million and 2 per cent of the net income from the company's Macau casinos if it was awarded a permit.
Suen is seeking as much as US$328 million in damages.
Suen claims that meetings he arranged between Adelson and Chinese officials, including the mayor of Beijing and the vice-premier responsible for Hong Kong and Macau, were instrumental in leading Edmund Ho Hau-wah, the former chief executive of the Macau Special Administrative Region, to award the company a gaming licence in 2002.
Ho, according to Suen, initially had expressed misgivings about Las Vegas Sands' large-scale plans.
"This is a case about not paying your debts even if you have the means to do so," John O'Malley, a lawyer for Suen, told jurors. "Las Vegas Sands should pay a debt that now has been owing for many, many years."
At Suen's suggestion, before meeting with the Chinese officials in July 2001, Adelson called Republican lawmakers to "see what he could learn" about a pending US House of Representatives resolution to discourage the US Olympics Committee from voting for Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympics, O'Malley said in his opening statement.
After talking to then House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, who was a co-sponsor of the resolution, Adelson told the mayor of Beijing that he didn't have to worry about the House voting on it, O'Malley said.
"As a result of that call, Mr Adelson learned or understood that the bill would either be killed or not voted on" before the vote in Moscow later that same month on Beijing hosting the Olympics, O'Malley said.
O'Malley said the goodwill Adelson generated by calling his political connections at the time of the Olympics bid was important to Chinese officials helping Las Vegas Sands getting awarded the Macau licence.
The Nevada Supreme Court in 2010 reversed a US$43.8 million jury award two years earlier in favour of Suen and sent the case back for a new trial. The appellate court found that the judge presiding over the previous trial had incorrectly allowed so-called hearsay evidence linking the meetings in Beijing with the award of the gaming licence.
Richard Sauber, a lawyer for Las Vegas Sands, said in his opening statement that Suen could not prove his claim that he "delivered" the Macau licence by setting up a 40-minute meeting with officials in Beijing.
Las Vegas Sands obtained its licence after meeting with Edmund Ho independently of Suen, participating in a tender process supervised by Macau officials, and getting a subconcession from a group of Hong Kong financiers that had won one of the concessions to build casinos that Las Vegas Sands would operate, Sauber told the jurors.
"Mr Suen had nothing what to do with any of these activities," Sauber said.
"There was no interference from China - this was an independent decision."
Adelson was scheduled to testify yesterday.