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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Sands Corp. Suing Sun Over 'Mean-Spirited' Column

25 July 2006

Las Vegas Sands Corp. has sued the Las Vegas Sun, Publisher Barbara Greenspun and its business editor, claiming the company was libeled by a column that handicapped the recent bidding for a casino license in Singapore.

The April 2 column, authored by Sun Business Editor Jeff Simpson, ranked Las Vegas Sands behind both MGM Mirage and Harrah's Entertainment in bids to win the right for developing the city-state's first casino site, located in Singapore's Marina Bay district.

An eight-page complaint was filed in Clark County District Court July 12, seeking more than $10,000 in damages. Las Vegas Sands claims the company was libeled when Simpson's column said the operator of The Venetian had a "sorry Nevada regulatory record" in comparison to its competitors. The column also said The Venetian had "a laundry list of other serious violations."

In the complaint, Las Vegas Sands attorneys called the column "a mean-spirited and calculated fabrication, which is exceedingly harmful to the prestigious reputation of the Las Vegas Sands."

The company won the bidding for the Singapore license on May 26 and announced plans to build the Marina Bay Sands, a $3.6 billion resort.

Despite being awarded the Singapore location, Las Vegas Sands said it asked the Las Vegas Sun to retract and correct the article at the end of May. The Sun refused.

In a May 28 column, Simpson congratulated Las Vegas Sands and company Chairman Sheldon Adelson for winning the Singapore bid.

Las Vegas Sun Managing Editor Michael Kelley said Monday there was nothing to retract.

"The column was fair comment under the First Amendment," Kelley said. "This is a nuisance suit filed by someone with deep pockets. We will defend it vigorously."

Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese said the company's policy is to not comment on pending litigation.

An outside attorney for Las Vegas Sands from the Las Vegas office of Duane Morris, the firm that filed the lawsuit, did not return a phone call.

In the lawsuit, Las Vegas Sands said the only blemish on its Nevada regulatory record took place in 2002 when employees of The Venetian fixed a casino contest.

In February 2004, Las Vegas Sands settled a 12-count complaint filed by the State Gaming Control Board, paying $1 million in fines and investigative costs. According to the complaint, Venetian executives rigged a promotion to give a Mercedes-Benz to an Asian high roller. Sources at the time told the Review-Journal that casino executives were attempting to make the gambler happy after he lost $5 million.

Las Vegas Sands reported the incident to state gaming regulators. But the complaint also cited other rigged contests, including $20,000 and $10,000 chip giveaways, failure by Venetian executives to stop the contest rigging, a scheme to give gamblers more credit than they were entitled to, failure to file cash transaction reports, accounting violations, an employee wrongly placing sports wagers on behalf of a customer and the casino's purchase of seven $15,000 cases of wine from a Mexican patron rather than from a state-licensed wholesaler.

In its stipulated settlement with the Nevada Gaming Commission, the company admitted to nine of the 12 counts and denied the allegations in the other three, saying, however, regulators could have proven the charges if there had been a full hearing.

Las Vegas Sands attorneys said the Sun column didn't point out regulatory problems of its competitors for the Singapore license. In the lawsuit, Las Vegas Sands said state records show that MGM Mirage has been fined at least 10 times by regulators for matters such as underage gambling, currency reporting discrepancies and a $5 million fine for failing to file reports with the Treasury Department.

Harrah's, according to Las Vegas Sands, "has incurred a myriad of fines for troubles relating to currency reporting."

In a separate matter last year, Adelson sued Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith for libel in Los Angeles County Superior. Adelson claimed he was defamed in Smith's book, "Sharks in the Desert." The lawsuit is pending.