LV casino executive on a roll

BOSTON — Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson is on his own winning streak.

The 74-year-old helped reinvent Las Vegas by emphasizing luxury suites, fine dining and entertainment as chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Three years ago, he became the first outsider to open a casino in Macau, the only part of China where gambling is legal. Last year, his company won a hotly contested license to build Singapore’s first casino.

He hopes to keep winning in Massachusetts.

“I’m the home team,” said Adelson, who grew up in Boston’s working-class Dorchester neighborhood. “There are the Pats, there’s the Sox, there’s the Celtics, and then there’s Adelson. They’re champions in what they do, we’re the champions in what we do.”

Like other Las Vegas operators, Adelson is closely watching Gov. Deval Patrick’s campaign to bring casinos to Massachusetts. The governor’s legislation would license three resort-style casinos, which he says would generate $400 million annually in tax revenue and 20,000 jobs.

Adelson, who ranked No. 3 on Forbes’ list of richest Americans with a net worth of $28 billion, likes Marlborough as one of the casino sites, believing it could lure gamblers from Connecticut two casinos.

“It’s the pivot point, the linchpin of the distance you have to travel,” he said of the Boston suburb near Interstates 495 and 90.

Adelson, whose cab driver father was a regular at the Suffolk Downs horse track in Boston, envisions a 300,000-square-foot resort with gambling, restaurants and entertainment, such as the Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” — which will play early next year at his newest Las Vegas casino, the Palazzo.

Under Patrick’s bill, bidders who partner with a Massachusetts-based Indian tribe would get preference, but Adelson says he would prefer to bid on his own.

He met with Patrick’s top economic advisers in May, and boasts he could build “the largest building in the world in two years.” But he says he’d give Massachusetts’ government whatever design it wants.

“They want a colonial-style building? We’ll build it. You want a Venetian-style building? We’ll build it. Whatever they want.”

Before building casinos, Adelson, a college dropout, worked as a financial adviser and real estate investor. He created the technology trade show Comdex in 1979, which he sold it to Japan’s Softbank Corp. for $860 million in 1995.

He bought the Sands, former home to Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, in 1989. Seven years later, he was inspired by his honeymoon in Venice to destroy it and erect The Venetian, a $1.5 billion casino resort.

The 4,000-suite resort prompted ridicule from gambling executives — who were focused mostly on gaming revenue — because it catered to business travelers and profited from hotel rooms. But it proved successful, and others followed suit.

“We’re the only company in the industry that focuses primarily on the convention market,” he said. “We’re not just a plain casino operator.”

Las Vegas Sands went public in December 2004, elevating Adelson to rarified company. He trails only Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett on Forbes’ list of richest Americans.

Childhood friend Marilyn Bickoff Gorodetzer said no one in their mostly Jewish neighborhood in Dorchester would have imagined such success.

“Nobody really had money. We were all a bunch of poor kids growing up, but we didn’t know we were poor,” she said, noting that Adelson sold newspapers to earn money. “He was an ambitious young man.”

Ambitious is a fitting description, says Peter Young, who worked 17 years for Adelson at Comdex, which held conventions in Las Vegas.

“Working for Sheldon is never a routine job, I don’t care who you are, unremitting pressure, no question about that,” Young said. “Tough guy, let me tell you. He understands probably better than anybody I ever worked for that a good concept is easy to come by, the trick is to get to the market first with the good concept.”

Adelson, who lives in Las Vegas with his wife, Miriam, and maintains a home in Newton, was on Beacon Hill this month to testify at a hearing on Patrick’s proposed casino bill.

He also invited the governor to attend the Aug. 28 opening of Macau casino, offering a free overnight suite, according to a copy of Patrick’s invitation obtained by The Associated Press. Patrick declined.

He and Patrick, a Democrat, have little in common politically. Adelson is a conservative who has donated money to GOP causes. But another Democrat, Steve Grossman, says Adelson is a man of his word.

At Grossman’s urging, Adelson donated more than $1 million dollars to retire the mortgage of their Newton temple, where Adelson is still a member.

“If he did this project here in Massachusetts, I think the people of Massachusetts would be extremely well-served,” said Grossman, past chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “I’ve never seen Sheldon do anything second rate.”

Grossman recalled visiting The Venetian when it was under construction.

“He walked me through one of the model suites. He knew the lamps, he knew the night tables, he knew the carpets. It was a great source of pride to him.”

While under construction, union activists sparred with Adelson. A federal court ruled in 1999 that The Venetian resort violated U.S. labor law by trying to prevent members of the culinary and bartenders unions from rallying on a sidewalk outside the casino. The Venetian resort is nonunion.

In Boston, he pledged to build with union workers, but longtime Las Vegas union activists predict his post-construction workforce would be nonunion.

“He fights us vehemently. To say that he’s going to build union is a throwaway line,” said D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers Union local 226.

Before anything gets built, skeptical lawmakers need to be persuaded to expand gambling in Massachusetts. Adelson says Bay Staters already gamble on lottery tickets, horses and at Connecticut casinos.

“Gambling’s been going on here forever,” he said. “Do you really believe that gambling doesn’t exist in this state? If you (do), you’re awfully naive.”

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