Sands turns page on year of misery

No one on the Strip is happier to see 2008 end more than Sheldon Adelson. The past 12 months have not been the best of times for the 75-year-old billionaire chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Let’s recap 2008, in no particular order.

Adelson began the year as America’s third-richest person, according to Forbes magazine. Then the share price of Las Vegas Sands collapsed, taking Adelson’s fortunes with it. He infused more than $1 billion in cash to shore up the company.

By November, Adelson’s net worth had lost $24 billion, the most of any member of the Forbes 400. The magazine said Adelson may struggle to stay on the list.

A company capitalization effort reduced Adelson’s majority ownership stake in Las Vegas Sands by almost 20 percent. Infighting between Adelson and his senior executives was also disclosed.

Adelson didn’t fare well in the courtroom. Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen won a $60.5 million verdict against the company in May. A Clark County jury believed Adelson stiffed Suen, who testified that his efforts helped the company win its Macau gambling concession. Adelson spent more than a day on the witness stand. The case is being appealed.

In November, Adelson agreed to dismiss with prejudice a 3-year-old libel lawsuit against R-J columnist John L. Smith after a federal judge said portions of Adelson’s confidential gaming records could be made public.

Adelson didn’t have a good year in politics. His initial choice for president, Rudy Giuliani, flamed out. Adelson then backed Republican John McCain’s losing effort against Barack Obama.

Adelson was the major financial backer of Freedom Watch, a conservative advocacy group that spent $30 million on four U.S. Senate races and about three dozen congressional races. The organization and Adelson personally backed the re-election effort of Nevada Rep. Jon Porter, who was beaten by Democrat Dina Titus. Freedom Watch lost almost all its races. The R-J’s Molly Ball reported the organization was defunct by the end of November.

Adelson’s political efforts failed locally. He backed a plan to qualify two state ballot initiatives that would have reduced the budget and responsibilities of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Courts threw out the measures on technicalities.

Things didn’t fare well in Macau. Construction projects on the Cotai Strip were suspended because of finances. The government imposed visa restrictions that slowed visitation.

A year ago, Adelson celebrated the opening of Las Vegas Sands’ $1.8 billion Palazzo hotel-casino. This New Year’s, he is celebrating surviving 2008.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. E-mail him at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or call 702-477-3871.

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