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Howard Stutz
 

Financial outlook for Sands discussed

23 April 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- An internal Las Vegas Sands Corp. document that lowers the company's adjusted financial forecast for 2008 by $312 million became the focus of heated arguments Tuesday between lawyers in a civil lawsuit brought by a Hong Kong businessman against the casino operator.

Attorneys for Richard Suen, who believes he helped Las Vegas Sands win a lucrative gambling license in Macau in 2002 and is owed millions of dollars, wanted to introduce the document during the second day of testimony of company President Bill Weidner in Clark County District Court.

While discussing the document with District Judge Michelle Leavitt, Weidner said in open court that the company was projecting "$312 million less than was forecasted in 2008." But he didn't say if the figure referred to company revenues or earnings.

Las Vegas Sands lawyers said the document, created by the company's finance department in late March, is used for internal financial purposes and was sealed by the court's discovery commissioner.

Sands attorney Rusty Hardin of Houston reminded Leavitt and Weidner the court was still open to the public and to not comment about the figures in the document.

Leavitt agreed with the company's contention that the document, which revises the company's financial forecast for 2008 based on the first three months of the year, should not be put out for public consumption.

Outside of court, Weidner said the document projects a full year of results for the Las Vegas Sands' gaming operations, including the Venetian Macau, which opened last August, and The Palazzo, which opened in January.

Weidner told the judge the document had not been filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Some aspects of the financial document might be used when the company discloses earnings for the 2008 first quarter next Tuesday.

Leavitt told attorneys for Suen they could enter the public portions of the evidence at that time.

During testimony, Weidner, for the second day, said Suen's efforts did nothing to help the casino operator win a lucrative gambling license in Macau.

A July 2001 trip to Beijing, set up by Suen, in which Weidner and Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson met with several Chinese government leaders, turned out to be nothing like they expected.

"It was supposed to be an exploratory trip to get a lay of the land," Weidner said. "But we were bicycled around as potential investors in China. Everywhere we went, somebody was trying to sell us something."

Suen, a business partner and friend of Adelson's brother, Leonard, was brought aboard by company officials in 2000 to try and help Las Vegas Sands win a gambling concession.

No formal agreement was ever reached with Suen. Las Vegas Sands won a shared gaming license in 2002, and Suen sued two years later.

Weidner, the No. 2 official with Las Vegas Sands, said the trip to Beijing was valuable in a sense that it helped the company understand what the Chinese government envisioned for Macau, which had a casino monopoly controlled by Hong Kong businessman Stanley Ho.

The government wanted to open up gambling for other casino operators.

"We learned the Chinese were going to allow gaming to continue and if we brought world-class facilities, they would allow more Chinese to go to Macau," Weidner said.

Weidner testified that Suen wanted the company to build a convention center in Beijing and invest in a high-tech research facility, something the company rejected.

Weidner testified that he recently learned during an evidentiary discovery hearing that the trip to Beijing, where he and Adelson met with one of China's vice premiers, the Chinese government-run newspaper and the mayor of Beijing, wasn't set up by Suen.

Weidner said the China Council for Promotion of International Trade helped arrange the meeting. At the time, he said, China was actively seeking foreign investment.

The meetings did not play a role in Las Vegas Sands winning the gaming concession a year later, he said.

"I did not expect anyone to wave a magic wand and help."

The casino executive, who joined Las Vegas Sands in 1995, is expected to finish his testimony today.

Suen is expected to testify before the end of the week.

Weidner became agitated several times under questioning by Suen attorney Jeff Dykes. He testified that letters and faxes exchanged between him and Suen showed the Hong Kong businessman did not live up to his expectations.

While planning to submit a bid for a Macau license, Las Vegas Sands wanted an investor to help fund the project. Weidner said he learned in 2001 that MGM Mirage was planning to bid for a license, but only under a management contract with another source footing the cost.

In a September 2001 fax to Weidner, Suen said he had an investor willing to fund 49 percent of a proposed project, but he needed a business plan from Las Vegas Sands to entice other investors.

"He never produced an investor, nor did he produce anyone who could deposit the money required," Weidner said. "It's the bogeyman. It was some guy in Hong Kong or it was several different people. But he never showed up with a guy with a check."

Weidner testified he gave Suen power of attorney to present the Las Vegas Sands bid to the Macau tender committee in October 2001.

By November, Weidner and Las Vegas Sands struck a deal with an investment group funded by a Taiwanese bank. Suen said the Taiwan funding would never fly with a Macau tender committee, however, because of the strained political relations between China and Taiwan.

Weidner believed Suen was trying to earn a fee from the investment group while Suen said he wouldn't do business with a Taiwan bank.

After the Las Vegas Sands bid was rejected, Edmund Ho, administrator for the Macau Special Administrative Region, contacted Weidner through an intermediary and asked him to travel to Macau. Ho asked Weidner to have Las Vegas Sands partner with Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment on the final Macau gaming concession.

Las Vegas Sands and Galaxy couldn't come to an agreement, however, and Jorge Oliveria, a Macau government official, suggested the concession be split and Las Vegas Sands be awarded a subconcession, a gaming license equal to a full concession.

Weidner said his dealings with the Taiwan bank did help the company obtain the subconcession, because, "It allowed me to present our plans to the tender commission."