Those that are familiar with American politics or the Las Vegas scene have heard of Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson, 79, is the Horatio Alger-like self-made billionaire who became the major power on the Las Vegas Strip and the outspoken defender of Israel and the Republicans — having donated nearly $100 million to GOP candidates in 2012.
But few have seen the extremely private recluse in person. Thursday, however, this changed.
Adelson was called to testify in a Las Vegas court to address charges that his Las Vegas Sands Corp. breached a contract with Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen, who worked to help Adelson get established in Macau, an administrative region in China and one of the world’s largest gambling markets. The Las Vegas Sands Corp. controls six casinos there.
Abelson claims that his company’s success in Macau is due to his own initiative and not that of Suen.
Recently, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. acknowledged that it is likely that the company violated the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in its actions in Macau, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
The company has said in a statement that “no violations of the anti-bribery provisions» occurred, but there were “likely violations” of the accounting provisions of the law that could have caused mistakes in its ledgers. This confession may disqualify Adelson from being a major donor to the Republicans in the future.
Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s expansion into Spain also is garnering protests as Adelson’s reputation for shady business dealings precedes him. Advocacy groups in Spain are protesting Adelson’s construction of a 1,850-acre mega-casino outside of Madrid. Tomas Gomez, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in Madrid, said the project is creating «alarm, social regression and very suspect, very disturbing things.»
«At the end of the day, what these gentlemen are setting up are platforms for money laundering to occur, and not platforms meant to create jobs,» Gomez said during a press conference.
History repeating itself
Suen is suing Adelson for $328 million — Suen argues that he was influential in helping Adelson win a gambling license in Macau. In 2001, Suen set up meetings with Beijing officials for Adelson. The case revolves around whether these meetings can constitute an actual consultancy. Attorneys for the Las Vegas Sands argue that Suen is owed nothing as he didn’t make good on his promise to help the company. Sands argues that licensing is a Macau, and not a Beijing, matter.
Previously, this case was argued in 2004, with the court awarding Suen $58.6 million in 2008. However, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned that judgment two years later. The Supreme Court ruled that the district judge should not have heard hearsay statements during the trial and that the judge should have instructed the jury to assume the government was acting as it should have.
Suen stated that Sands promised his company a $5 million success fee and 2 percent of net casino profits in exchange for helping Sands open its first Macau casino and that he arranged for Adelson to meet with Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen and Beijing Mayor Liu Qi.
Suen’s company partnered with Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment in February 2002 and was awarded one of three gambling licenses by the Macau government. Macau then awarded Sands a subconcession, which Suen claims was due to his previous lobbying.
Sixty percent of Sand’s company revenue comes from the company’s four resorts in Macau’s Cotai Strip area. Sands also own the Venetian and the Palazzo in Las Vegas.
In 2009, Sands paid $42.5 million to three men who claimed to help the company obtain its license. Marshall Hao, a Taiwanese-American businessman, is separately suing Sands, alleging that the company secretly teamed up with another partner to bid for a license in breach of an existing contract.
A complicated man
Adelson, a native Bostonian, is known for his controversial support of Republican candidates — namely Newt Gingrich — which helped divide the Republican Party and may have divided them against the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney. This is despite the fact that — away from the public view — the man is pro-choice, favors citizenship for undocumented immigrants, favors “socialized” health care and is — by definition — a social liberal in private life.
“Look, I’m basically a social liberal,” Adelson told the Wall Street Journal. “I know nobody will believe that.
“Number one, I’m supporting stem-cell research,” he said, pointing to a chart of the new Adelson medical research foundation that is funding some stem-cell based science.
“I’m pro choice. You can take your own religious beliefs … and live your life with your own beliefs. But to make it a portion of the government’s policies?” He shook his head. “Abortion shouldn’t be brought up as a political issue.”
Adelson opposes the Affordable Care Act, but not because of reasons expressed in the Republican platform. “I’m against this Obamacare because it’s making the [medical] decisions based upon money.” If one goes to Israel, he said, one chooses among four or five HMOs. “You go in there you get all your health care from cradle to grave … I think that to take care of everybody is part of Tikkun Olam,” the Hebrew motto meaning “repair the world,” he said. “And to deprive somebody of money for health care or [medical] testing is bordering on criminal.”
This is despite giving between $70 million and $150 million in 2012 to support conservative candidates who were universally opposed to his social views — the exact amount will never be known, as many of the political action committees (PACs) Adelson donated to does not report its donors lists.
Adelson chooses to support the conservatives due to their pro-Israel stance (his wife was born in Israel) and support of lowering the tax burden for the wealthy. He has also pointed out that he has a personal grudge against the Obama administration, as the Justice Department under Obama has been investigating Sands for possible money laundering and FCPA violations.
The destructive and combative nature of his political support is not lost on him. He has argued that he must maintain a “tough guy” position against the Democrats in order to forward his financial interests. Adelson is not dismayed by the poor return on his political investment in 2012 or by the seeming discrepancies from his social and business ethics. He expressed to the Wall Street Journal that he doubled his donation to the Republicans from 2008 to 2012, and will probably double it again for 2016.
«I’ll spend that much and more,» he said. «Let’s cut any ambiguity.»