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Gaming Guru

Tim O'Reiley

Suen explored Las Vegas in 2000 to "gather intelligence"

9 April 2013

LAS VEGAS -- In November 2000, Las Vegas Sands Corp. consultant Richard Suen and three associates hit the Strip to do all the tourist things for the first time, including walking through a dozen resorts and catching a couple of shows.

But rather than just indulging in some fun, Suen told a jury Monday, he was gathering intelligence to help pave the way for the company’s entry into Macau.

“Mr. Sheldon Adelson told us he envisaged the Las Vegas of the Far East,” the former consultant said. “I’ve got to see what this is.”

In particular, he said, he wanted to study the competition, because he foresaw that Sands would have to enter an open bidding process to gain a concession in Macau, which has mushroomed into the world’s biggest gaming market.

“We had no idea of the scale [of Las Vegas],” Suen said. “It was really impressive.”

Suen contends in his Clark County District Court lawsuit that this market study, plus his contacts in high levels of government in both Macau and China and other advice, fulfilled his promise to help Sands break into Macau and earned him a $328 million fee.

Adelson, who finished his stint on the witness stand at midday Monday and then watched from the audience, says Suen contributed nothing to building what has become a profit machine for the company and has refused to pay him anything.

In fact, Adelson testified that Suen had accomplished nothing of substance on that Las Vegas trip.

As China regained control of Macau in late 1999, Suen said he expected the Macau government to break the longtime casino monopoly held by Stanley Ho to shed the image of a seedy destination infested with organized crime. To accomplish this, Suen testified, he expected the incoming Macau administration to dust off a long-standing but never implemented law that permitted three gaming concessions, with each one an umbrella for multiple locations.

By contrast, each casino in Nevada requires a separate license.

Moreover, because China was nearly a quarter-century into its economic liberalization, Suen said, the government would require “an open, honest” competitive process for the licenses.

Adelson testified repeatedly that the Sands deal with Suen was based on his promise to secure a license prior to any bidding, which became impossible once the government announced its decision to offer three licenses and solicit global bids. After that, Adelson said, Sands executives succeeded on their own, bolstered by their experience in the convention and meeting industry.

“Why would I compensate [Suen] for something that was available to the whole world?” Adelson said.

The adversaries recounted their personal and business histories under the guidance of their attorneys.

Suen recalled Monday that his father sent him from his native Hong Kong to school in Great Britain in 1967 out of fear that Communist forces would soon overrun what was then a British colony. As the eldest son, he would then support the family.

On Friday, Adelson reminisced about his childhood in a Boston tenement, describing how he eventually hit his stride as an entrepreneur until he built an empire that has made him one of the world’s wealthiest individuals. During his testimony Monday, he often faced the jurors to explain his version of events.

Before he stepped down, Adelson took five written questions from the jury read by Clark County District Judge Rob Bare. One of them sought an explanation of why former Sands President and Chief Operating Officer William Weidner, a top Adelson lieutenant for more than a decade, was let go in March 2009 after a public rupture.

Adelson shied away from specifics in response.

“We just had disagreements,” he said.

Weidner, who was still a part of management during Suen’s first trial in 2008, will take the stand Wednesday.