Give Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson great credit. Not everyone could stand the heat he appears to take in stride as he builds his international casino empire and personal fortune into the stratosphere.
These days the nation’s most famous son of a Boston cabdriver is worth an estimated $24.9 billion, according to Forbes. Although he has run dozens of businesses in his life, as he nears his 79th birthday on Aug. 4 Adelson’s bankroll is largely built on his wildly profitable Macau casinos. Macau has eclipsed Las Vegas as the world’s gambling capital thanks to a flow of cash from China, where players are plentiful but casinos aren’t legal.
Where others might see Adelson’s Macau gambit as the ultimate score for a casino man, he hasn’t been satisfied or broken stride. Not only is he expanding his footprint on the Chinese enclave, but he has also planted his corporate flag in Singapore with big plans for other jurisdictions.
Some would call that a full plate. Not Adelson.
He also finds the time to field what most would consider withering lawsuits, in which he has been accused of everything from double-dealings in Macau to failing to pay his security team overtime. The civil lawsuits are costly, and multimillion-dollar judgments have gone against him. But he keeps moving.
The stakes were raised when the Department of Justice and the Security and Exchange Commission opened investigations into Adelson’s Macau operations. Investigators are trying to determine whether Las Vegas Sands violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribery by U.S. companies doing business abroad. Investigators must surely have benefited from the increasingly nasty civil litigation being waged by former Sands Macau executive Steve Jacobs.
The latest wicked salvo includes an allegation that Sands Macau had a “prostitution strategy” that “had been personally approved by Mr. Adelson,” according to a court filing. Adelson’s advocates have vehemently denied the allegation, officially retorting, “Mr. Adelson regards prostitution as morally abhorrent. The notion that Mr. Adelson would approve a ‘prostitution strategy’ is as insulting as it is absurd.”
And on it goes.
In a recent investigative report published by ProPublica, corporate emails raise intriguing questions about the gaming company’s working relationship with its extremely well-connected Macau legislator and corporate counsel Leonel Alves. Add to that multiple reports illustrating the reality of working with Macau’s traditionally triad-connected casino junket representatives, and there’s plenty of questions left to answer.
If that weren’t more than enough to keep a corporate titan on his toes, there’s Adelson’s formidable political presence to consider. He’s not just the most generous donor to GOP presidential campaigns and select congressional bids, but he’s arguably also the most active American in Israeli politics as a fast friend and supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Adelson almost single-handedly carried Newt Gingrich’s failed presidential candidacy. His multimillion-dollar checks to super PACs that benefit presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney could make or break his campaign, and so far only the Democrats are wondering aloud about the donations and Adelson’s Macau business controversies. Somehow, I don’t think either Romney or his PAC masters have any plans to return the money.
The numbers are so astronomical that it’s easy to think none of it could have an impact on you. But that’s not true. The public and private challenges of casino billionaires Adelson, Steve Wynn and others are like ocean currents: The waves always reach Las Vegas.
Not only do the community’s fortunes rise and fall on their substantial business savvy, but they also carry the banner of legalized gambling’s regulatory reputation with them wherever they go.
If they falter, it all reflects on Nevada’s most important industry and its much-publicized tradition of casino policing.
Mind-boggling casino profits, multimillion-dollar lawsuits, an ongoing federal criminal investigation and powerhouse politics at the highest levels: That’s Sheldon Adelson’s world.
Although the amazing gaming titan shows no signs of slowing, I am still left wondering how long this can last.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.