Sands chief questions MGM Mirage’s motives

Two days before they both co-hosted a high-priced fundraiser for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson said rival Chairman Terry Lanni’s MGM Mirage Corp. was investing in Atlantic City only to appease New Jersey gaming regulators, hoping to gain a favorable ruling on its relationship with a casino partner in Macau.

Adelson made his remarks following a keynote address at the JP Morgan Chase & Co. investors conference Wednesday at The Venetian.

The 74-year-old Sands majority stockholder alleged MGM Mirage only announced plans to build a $5 billion resort development in Atlantic City because the company is being investigated by New Jersey gaming authorities about its 50-50 joint venture with Hong Kong businesswoman Pansy Ho in the $1.25 billion MGM Grand Macau, which opened in December.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has been conducting a more than 2-year-long investigation into the suitability of Ho, the daughter of controversial Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho. Federal and international authorities have alleged that the elder Ho, who also owns casinos in Macau, has connections with Chinese organized crime triads.

Nevada gaming regulators a year ago found MGM Mirage’s business relationship with Pansy Ho met the state’s suitability standards.

During a question-and- answer session following his speech at the conference, Adelson flat-out rejected Las Vegas Sands expanding into Atlantic City when asked if he would consider the New Jersey casino market.

After discussing Atlantic City’s declining gaming revenues, Adelson tossed out his remarks about MGM Mirage.

“I know MGM is putting something there, but they are trying to (get) New Jersey not to reject their relationship with the Ho family,” Adelson said.

Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese Monday declined to expand on Adelson’s comments.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman also declined to offer a formal reaction.

“It probably isn’t something worth commenting on,” Feldman said.

New Jersey gaming regulators also didn’t have any comment on Adelson’s remarks.

Peter Aseltine, spokesman for the Division of Gaming Enforcement, which works for the New Jersey attorney general, said the agency is still working on a report of its investigation of Pansy Ho that will be delivered to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. He said he didn’t know when the report would be completed.

“I’m not going to comment on Mr. Adelson’s remarks,” Aseltine said.

If New Jersey finds Pansy Ho an unsuitable business partner, MGM Mirage might be forced to abandon its ventures in the state, including a 50-50 partnership with Boyd Gaming Corp. in the Borgata. In October, MGM Mirage said it would spend $5 billion to build the MGM Grand Atlantic City, which would be New Jersey’s largest hotel-casino complex.

Feldman said Lanni attended Friday’s luncheon fundraiser for McCain that was held at The Venetian as a co-host. Adelson, who was also a co-host, attended the event. A source who saw the two men said they spoke briefly and were cordial to each other.

Adelson has said in previous talks that Las Vegas Sands would not expand into Atlantic City. Instead, the company is spending more than $600 million to build Sands Bethworks, a casino and entertainment development in Bethlehem, Pa., that will open with 3,000 slot machines.

The facility is about a one-and-a-half hour drive from New York City according to Mapquest.com and could divert business from Atlantic City. If Pennsylvania licenses table games, Adelson said the casino could rival Foxwoods, a large Indian casino in Connecticut.

Adelson said he didn’t see any upside to building in Atlantic City.

“We think we are one of the most, if not the most aggressive opportunists in gaming and integrated resort expansion in the world,” Adelson said. “We would not even consider Atlantic City. Never made any sense and it never will make any sense.”

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or (702) 477-3871.

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