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LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A Clark County District Court jury ordered Las Vegas Sands Corp. to pay Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen $43.8 million for helping the casino company win a lucrative gaming license in Macau.
The verdict, reached Saturday morning, followed a six-week civil trial before District Judge Michelle Leavitt. The jury of five women and three men deliberated for about nine hours Friday and a little more than an hour Saturday before reaching their decision.
"Within the first hour, we voted seven-to-one that he (Suen) deserved damages," said Nelson Orth of Henderson, who served as the jury's foreman. "The rest of the time was spent determining exactly as to how much those damages amounted."
The jury believed Suen's actions during 2000 and 2001 helped Las Vegas Sands win a shared gaming concession from the Macau government in February 2002.
The jury said Suen should be paid $43.8 million for his past efforts and did not award any money for future damages.
Orth, 68, said the jurors, during deliberations, offered up a wide range of financial figures to award Suen, from $100 million down to zero. In the end, a compromise was struck taking into account a middle range. Another juror, Wendy Testa, thought Suen should be paid $13 million based on one of his several faxes and e-mail exchanges with Las Vegas Sands from 2000 to 2001 that came into evidence. She agreed with the final total.
"We had several jurors, including me, on the high side," Orth said. "We came down and others came up. In the end, we thought it was a good figure."
When polled by Leavitt after the verdict, two of the eight jurors said they disagreed with the financial award.
Both Orth and Testa said they thought Suen was not very credible while testifying over several days. Still, they said, evidence showed he did play a role in the licensing efforts of Las Vegas Sands.
"We thought he deserved something," Orth said. "He just wasn't a very good witness."
Suen hugged his legal team after the verdict was announced.
"It's more than just the money," Suen said. "It's justice and I got it. It feels great."
Las Vegas Sands attorney Rusty Hardin said outside the courtroom the company would appeal the jury's decision.
In a statement released late Saturday, Las Vegas Sands said it "will file the appropriate post-trial motions with the trial judge. If unsuccessful we will vigorously pursue an appeal. We, and our attorneys, are confident we would prevail in such an appeal."
Company spokesman Ron Reese declined comment beyond the statement.
Suen's attorneys had sought $100.5 million in damages, which was based on a $5 million success fee for helping the company win the license plus 2 percent of the net profits from the Sands Macau and Venetian Macau, the company's two casinos.
Hardin told jurors in his closing argument that Suen didn't deserve anything because he was not responsible for the company's successful licensing efforts. Since 2004, Las Vegas Sands has become the dominant American-based casino operator in Macau and is expanding that stake over the next few years.
Las Vegas Sands partnered with Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment in February 2002 and was awarded one of three gaming licenses by the Macau government. The companies could not reach a contract agreement, however, and the partnership was dissolved. Macau then awarded Sands Corp. its own subconcession.
Orth said the most compelling evidence that swayed his decision was a series of meetings Suen arranged in Beijing in July 2001 between Chinese government officials and Las Vegas Sands executives, including Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson and President Bill Weidner.
Suen testified the meetings played a key role in the company earning the gaming license. Suen had said the Chinese government wanted Las Vegas Sands to win one of the three concessions based on those meetings.
Testa agreed the meetings in China were important to the eventual licensing.
"He gave them a head start and an opportunity to meet someone," said Testa, 31. "The question I had was how much was a handshake worth? What Adelson did after that handshake was a credit to him."
Testimony showed that Weidner was called to a secret meeting in Macau on Jan. 31, 2002, with the Chinese special administrative region's chief executive, Edmund Ho.
At that meeting, Las Vegas Sands, which was in a doomed partnership with a Taiwanese bank, was paired with Galaxy. A week later, the companies were awarded the concession.
Two members of the Macau Tender Commission, a former Las Vegas Sands attorney from Hong Kong and a representative from an accounting firm all testified they were never aware of the Weidner-Ho meeting.
"There's no question, the trip to Beijing was important," Orth said. "We all thought those witnesses were truthful and honest, but they all said they didn't know anything about that meeting."
Adelson, the world's 12th richest person according to Forbes magazine, was the trial's first witness on April 17 and spent a little more than a day testifying.
Weidner spent six days on the witness stand. During cross-examination, Weidner admitted he thought Suen was owed something financially by the casino company for his efforts.
Suen's lead attorney, John O'Malley, was hopeful the company would respect the jurors' decision.
"We would hope that (Las Vegas Sands) and Mr. Adelson would see this verdict as a statement of the jury and honor the verdict immediately," O'Malley said.
"It's our hope Las Vegas Sands would pay the judgement as quickly as possible."
Baring appeals, the verdict closed one chapter in the story of how Las Vegas Sands beat out other Nevada gaming companies to win a gambling concession in Macau.
The company and Adelson are facing two other lawsuits about its business practices while gaining a foothold in China.
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