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After latest jury decision, question is whether Adelson will pay

Sheldon Adelson likes to brag that he’s a self-made man, but a jury in the Richard Suen civil trial on Tuesday again reminded the multibillionaire casino mogul that he has had valuable help along the way.

After fewer than two days of occasionally heated deliberation , a jury unanimously determined Suen’s efforts to help win Adelson and Las Vegas Sands a coveted Macau casino license were worth $70 million. Suen is also in line to receive substantial pre-judgment interest. Although lead plaintiff’s counsel John O’Malley declined to speculate, a case insider confirmed interest could reach $31 million.

That would break the $100 million barrier in an action that began in October 2004 and has ground on through the first trial in 2008 that resulted in a $43.8 million judgment for Suen. Sands appealed and persuaded the Nevada Supreme Court that the judgment was based in part on the admission of hearsay evidence.

Add the $42.5 million settlement of a separate but similarly themed civil case in 2009, and that makes the third time in recent years Adelson has been reminded he didn’t become the new king of Macau on his own. You’d think he’d take the hint and maybe even learn a lesson. But instead he appears to prefer paying lawyers and sitting in court.

“Zero,” is the amount Adelson told the jury that Suen helped his company’s cause. But substantial documentation from Sands’ own corporate officers painted a picture of Suen’s involvement and sincere interest in helping the company make the high-level connections it would need to sell itself to Macau casino officials and their senior political string-pullers in China.

While obviously pleased with the verdict, O’Malley could only speculate whether Adelson will follow his past practices and order an appeal.

“We know that Adelson has appealed before,” O’Malley said. “He managed to get a reversal. We think this verdict will withstand any appeal. And the question we have for Mr. Adelson is, when are you going to pay this debt?”

Call it the $70 million question. (Interest not included.)

If the plaintiff was hoping to receive an indication from lead defense attorney Richard Sauber, he was disappointed. Sauber and the rest of the defense team declined comment and deferred to a Las Vegas Sands PR flack. Although Adelson and wife Miriam were regulars in the courtroom, they didn’t appear for the verdict.

Although Clark County juries have a reputation of being tough on outsiders, O’Malley and District Judge Rob Bare praised the balanced effort the group of 12 citizens put forth in the six-week trial. At one point during the deliberations, a juror spat resulted in a brief delay in the proceedings. But Bare reassured the group and reminded them of their sworn duty.

Suen enthused, “I got justice twice from the people of Clark County. I’ve always had faith in the community of Las Vegas. My faith turned out to be absolutely correct.”

While he has millions of reasons to be pleased, the potentially far more daunting task will come as the plaintiff’s attorneys try to pry loose the judgment from the fists of the defendant.

“It’s been owing for now, what, 12 or 13 years,” O’Malley said of the Suen debt. “Two juries in Clark County have spoken. They’ve spoken with a very similar voice on both occasions, once in 2008 and once today. And you all will remember the number’s gone up. … We can only hope that Mr. Adelson and his company will listen to the jury the second time like they didn’t the first and pay the man what he is owed.”

The case had its complexities, but this part is simple: The question no longer is whether Adelson received valuable help to score a Macau casino license that has enabled him to become one of the world’s richest men. Suen proved it twice. Others have as well.

As always, the question is whether Sheldon Adelson will pay what he owes, or continue to spend money on attorneys.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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