LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A jury on Tuesday dealt another defeat to casino mogul and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson in his nine-year fight with a Hong Kong businessman, awarding the former consultant $70 million for helping Las Vegas Sands Corp. secure a lucrative gambling license in the Chinese enclave of Macau.
But Las Vegas Sands says it won’t be paying up anytime soon.
Suen claimed he was owed up to $328 million for helping the Las Vegas-based company secure a lucrative gambling license in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal.
Las Vegas Sands attorneys argued Suen was owed nothing because he didn’t make good on a promise to aid company executives and deliver a license.
The jury didn’t know it, but the case was a retrial; Suen won the suit in 2008, but the verdict was thrown out on appeal.
The jury hearing the retrial deliberated for less than two days before delivering a unanimous consensus. But the fight, now entering its 10th year, is likely to continue through another appeal.
“We believe there are compelling and sufficient grounds on which to appeal this verdict, and we will do so aggressively,” Sands spokesman Ron Reese said.
Suen remained straight-faced after the verdict was read, as he had throughout the trial, while Sands attorneys pursed their lips and shook their heads. Sands attorney Stephen Peek immediately asked for a retrial, saying a juror had revealed secret prejudices against Adelson.
The man in question grew angry during deliberations Monday and taunted a fellow juror, saying she was afraid of Adelson. The woman later asked Judge Rob Bare if she could sit separately from the rest of the jury because she felt disrespected. She was later convinced to sit with the jury and proceed with the deliberations.
On Tuesday, Bare said he found the mistrial argument unconvincing and noted Sands could’ve made the objection before the verdict was announced.
As he walked out of the courtroom, Suen, 60, said he would be “eternally grateful” to Sin City.
“I believe that justice will be served eventually,” he said. “I’ve always kept my faith with the Las Vegas community, and I’ve been proven right. Twice.”
Adelson attended court last week for closing arguments but was absent from Tuesday’s proceedings.
Las Vegas Sands has opened four resorts in Macau’s Cotai Strip area, and now makes about 60 per cent of its profits in the former Portuguese colony, an hour from Hong Kong by ferry. Sands also operates the Venetian and the Palazzo casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
Suen said he was hired by Las Vegas Sands to curry favour with the Chinese government in the early 2000s and was successful.
He first filed his lawsuit in 2004, saying he and his company were promised $5 million and 2 per cent of net casino profits to help the company win a Macau gambling license.
Sands does not deny that a high level executive once offered Suen this “success fee” in writing, but the company’s attorneys argued Suen did not hold up his end of the bargain.
The jury rejected Suen’s breach-of-contract claim, but found he was owed something for his troubles.
In 2008, Suen was awarded $58.6 million, but the Nevada Supreme Court overturned that verdict. Among other things, the court said the district judge shouldn’t have allowed hearsay statements during the trial.
In the retrial, Suen asked for more than three times the amount of compensation he requested in 2008 because of Sands’ explosive success in Macau.
The second five-week trial could end up costing Sands more than $11.2 million in the award alone. The $70 million award will accrue interest until it is paid or overturned.
Adelson, the 79-year-old chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands, offered business lessons and hammy jokes during his three days of testimony in April.
The multi-billionaire said his own business sense helped him to see the opportunities waiting in Macau and convince local officials to license his company.
Asked why a fantastically successful company would opt to invest time and resources in a third trial over the relatively minor sum of $70 million, Reese declined to answer directly.
“The company has stated unequivocally that Mr. Suen played no role in helping the company win its license,” he said.
Sands ultimately partnered with Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment and was granted one of three gambling licenses by the Macau government. The companies could not reach a contract agreement, however, and the partnership was dissolved.
Macau then awarded Las Vegas Sands a subconcession, a decision Suen’s lawyers said was a result of their client’s earlier lobbying.
In closing statements, Suen trial lawyer John O’Malley drew an analogy to a person who hires a real estate agent to sell his home. Even if the homeowner finds a buyer quickly and easily, the agent still is entitled to collect his commission, or at least a portion of it, he said.
On Tuesday, O’Malley urged regulators in Nevada and Macau, who have the power to eject Sands, to pay attention to the lengthy legal battle as it again goes to appeal.
“This debt has been outstanding for a long time, and I hope folks think about that,” he said.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier.