Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent a rare day in the public eye when he took the witness stand in Las Vegas and defended his decision to turn his back on a Hong Kong businessman who says he is owed US$328 million in a breach of contract case.
Adelson blazed a trail of casino riches in Asia after doing the same thing in the US as chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp.
In recent years, a series of former business associates have sued Sands for a portion of profits from the Chinese gambling enclave Macau, now the world’s biggest gambling market.
Richard Suen (孫志達) says he made it possible for the company to win a license in Macau by arranging meetings between executives and Beijing officials in 2001.
Adelson says those meetings did not help the company, as licenses are distributed by officials in Macau, not on the mainland.
Buoyed in large part by his successes in Macau, Adelson has become the ninth-richest person in the US, worth an estimated US$26.5 billion, according to Forbes.
The 79-year-old billionaire’s testimony was expected to last at least two days.
Asked on Thursday how many casinos he owns, Adelson paused and counted eight on his fingers. He later amended that to nine. When he met Suen, he owned just one casino — The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip.
Suen, a former business partner of Adelson’s brother, said he and his company were promised a US$5 million success fee and 2 percent of net casino profits in exchange for helping Sands open its first casino in Macau.
Sands agrees that the promise was made, but argues that Suen never fulfilled his part of the deal — to deliver a gambling license.
The case hinges on the role that personal relationships, or guanxi, play in Chinese culture.
Suen’s team argues that Sands needed to cultivate influence, but the casino countered that Suen is demanding a success fee for setting up a single 40-minute meeting with the mayor of Beijing.
On the stand, Adelson frequently pleaded memory loss. He said he could not remember whether he sent his second-in-command to meet with Suen in 2001 or recall the names of the people Suen arranged for him to meet.
“I’m not very good at Chinese names. I’m not always so good at English names,” Adelson said.
He also offered that he plans to come back in his next life as a Chinese, because “the Chinese always look 20 years younger than they are.”
It is the second time Suen and Sands have faced off in court over the Macau issue. In 2008, a jury awarded US$58.6 million to Suen, but the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the verdict in 2010.