Las Vegas Sands' Adelson loses court battle

U.S. gaming tycoon Sheldon Adelson arrives to hear former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney deliver foreign policy remarks July 29, 2012, in Jerusalem. Getty Images

LAS VEGAS A jury on Tuesday awarded a Hong Kong businessman a $70 million judgment against Las Vegas Sands Corp., the casino giant run by billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Richard Suen claimed he was owed up to $328 million for helping the Las Vegas-based company secure a lucrative gambling license in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal.

Suen said he was hired by Las Vegas Sands to curry favor with the Chinese government in the early 2000s and was successful. Las Vegas Sands attorneys argued Suen was owed nothing because he didn't make good on his promise to aid company executives.

The eight-person Clark County District Court jury deliberated for two full days before returning the award Tuesday, potentially bringing nine years of litigation to an end.

Las Vegas Sands has opened four resorts in Macau's Cotai Strip area, and now makes about 60 percent of its profits in the former Portuguese colony, an hour from Hong Kong by ferry. Sands also operates the Venetian and the Palazzo casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

Suen first filed his lawsuit in 2004, saying he and his company were promised $5 million and 2 percent of net casino profits to help the company win a Macau gambling license. Sands does not deny that it once offered Suen a "success fee," but the company's attorneys argued the businessman did not make good on his promise to deliver a license.

Sands ultimately partnered with Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment and was awarded one of three gambling licenses by the Macau government. The companies could not reach a contract agreement, however, and the partnership was dissolved.

Macau then awarded Las Vegas Sands a subconcession, a decision Suen's lawyers said was a result of their client's earlier lobbying.

Adelson, the 78-year-old chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands, offered business lessons and hammy jokes during his three days of testimony in April. He said his own business sense helped him to see the opportunities waiting in Macau and convince local officials to license his company.

In closing statements, Suen trial lawyer John O'Malley drew an analogy to a person who hires a real estate agent to sell his home, saying even if the homeowner finds a buyer quickly and easily, the agent still is entitled to collect his commission, or at least a portion of it.

This was the second time the case played out in Clark County court, though the jury didn't know it. Suen was awarded $58.6 million in 2008, but the Nevada Supreme Court overturned that verdict. Among other things, the court said the district judge shouldn't have allowed hearsay statements during the trial. In the retrial, Suen asked for more than three times the amount of compensation he requested during in 2008 because of Sands' explosive success in Macau.

Adelson became a huge donor to Republican causes and candidates in the last presidential election, bankrolling Newt Gingrich's failed attempt to capture the Republican nomination, and later to the campaign of Mitt Romney. Forbes has ranked Adelson as the world's 16th richest man with a net worth of approximately $23 billion.

The trial was marked by vivid testimony by the former president and chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands, Williams Weidner, who left the company in 2009 amid a falling out with Adelson.

Weidner testified that he had asked the board to allow him to run Sands without interference from Adelson, whom he accused of mismanagement. Among the reasons he cited was the original breach-of-contract case.

"I had lost confidence in him because of this trial. This trial was injurious to relations in China. It should have never happened," he said.

Weidner said the board begged him to stay but was ultimately overruled by Adelson, who eventually bailed out the company with $1 billion of his own money.

Weidner added that he walked away from a severance package worth between $20 million and $60 million because of a clause that would have prohibited him from saying negative things about Adelson.

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