Las Vegas Sands (LVS) has been ordered to pay Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen (pictured far right) $70m for his role in helping LVS obtain a Macau casino gaming license. This is the second time Suen has triumphed over LVS, having previously been awarded $43.8m in 2008, only to have that verdict overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court two years later. Suen launched a second suit earlier this year and the two parties squared off in court in April before making their closing arguments last week. The jury deliberated for two days before returning its verdict.
Suen’s lawsuit was based on his claim that he had alerted LVS to Macau’s potential back in the early 2000’s, around the time the local government was considering an end to Stanley Ho’s monopoly on gaming in the Special Administrative Region of China. Suen claimed LVS promised him $5m and 2% of its Macau casino profits if Suen could help LVS obtain a gaming license. LVS didn’t dispute that it had promised Suen a “success fee” nor that Suen had arranged meetings between LVS execs and high-ranking Beijing officials, but LVS argued that it had obtained its Macau license on its own merits, not as a result of any action Suen took, thus Suen was owed bupkis.
In addition to Suen, the trial featured testimony from LVS chairman Sheldon Adelson and former LVS president William Weidner, with whom Adelson had a tumultuous relationship. Weidner, who left LVS on bad terms in 2009, testified that Adelson’s willingness to fight Suen in court in 2008 was “injurious to relationships with China,” leading Weidner to claim he’d “lost confidence in [Adelson’s] decision making.”
LVS is currently embroiled in several other lawsuits related to its Asian operations, including the wrongful termination suit brought by former Sands China CEO Steve Jacobs. The Jacobs suit in particular has aired a lot of Sands’ allegedly dirty laundry in public, which may have resulted in the increased focus put on LVS’ Asian dealings by US financial regulators and law enforcement agencies.
The notoriously combative Adelson – who earlier this year sued a Wall Street Journal reporter for referring to him as “foul-mouthed” – is one of the world’s richest men, with a net worth estimated at $26.5b, so the Suen judgment will barely be noticed, at least, in monetary terms. The question remains, after eight years and two trials, is Adelson willing to let it go? LVS has yet to issue a statement on the verdict, but it would be quite out of character for aging streetfighter Adelson to accept defeat graciously.
UPDATE: True to form, Sands spokesman Ron Reese has declared that the company’s attorneys believe “there are compelling and sufficient grounds on which to appeal this verdict, and we will do so aggressively.”