Casino owner Sheldon Adelson hit with $70-million verdict

This post has been corrected and updated, as indicated below.

LAS VEGAS – A Hong Kong businessman hit a $70-million court-awarded jackpot Tuesday when a jury agreed that he had helped the casino empire run by billionaire Sheldon Adelson get a gambling foothold in China.

This is the second time in five years that jurors have awarded consultant Richard Suen a sizable sum in the bitter dispute. A jury's 2008 finding for Suen was thrown out on appeal. Adelson's lawyers vowed Tuesday to appeal the latest verdict.

Suen claimed he was owed $328 million for lobbying mainland Chinese officials to grant the Las Vegas Sands Corp. a lucrative gambling license in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal.

Throughout the month-long trial, Adelson’s attorneys argued that Suen had not had effect on the company’s efforts to secure the license and was owed nothing because, despite his promises, he did nothing concrete to aid company executives.

The trial included testimony in April from Adelson, a reclusive tycoon whose worth reportedly exceeds $26 billion. The stalwart Republican and defender of Israel, along with his wife, donated nearly $100 million to GOP candidates in last year’s elections.

On the stand, the 79-year-old chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands cracked one-liners and told tales of his childhood: "I could have been a rags to riches story. But my parents couldn't afford the rags." His banter often made the jurors smile. He attended court last week for closing arguments but was absent from Tuesday's verdict.

After filing his initial lawsuit in 2004, Suen was awarded $58.6 million in 2008. The Nevada Supreme Court overturned that verdict, ruling that hearsay statements had been allowed into evidence during the trial.

This time, Suen asked for more than the amount of the earlier award because of Sands' extraordinary success in Macao.

Las Vegas Sands, which operates the Venetian and the Palazzo here on The Strip, has opened four resorts in Macao's Cotai Strip area, and now makes about 60% of its profits in the former Portuguese colony.

The jury deliberated for less than two days before reaching a unanimous verdict, but the nearly decade-long battle probably isn’t over.

Moments after the jurors returned with their verdict, Sands attorney J. Stephen Peek asked Clark County District Judge Rob Bare for a retrial, claiming that a juror had revealed to another man on the panel that she was prejudiced against Adelson.

Bare said Sands lawyers could have made the objection earlier.

Ron Reese, a spokesman for the company, later told reporters the war isn’t over yet.

“We believe there are compelling and sufficient grounds on which to appeal this verdict, and we will do so aggressively,” he said.

[Updated, 5:29 p.m., May 14: John O’Malley, the lead attorney on Suen’s legal team, said he was pleased with the verdict and that the businessman would join his lawyers Tuesday night for a celebration dinner.

O’Malley said he hopes he doesn’t have to go to trial a third time.

“Sheldon Adelson has unlimited resources by any definition of the term and he can keep this going until the state Supreme Court sustains the verdict,” he said. "I think the court will do so this time and that Sheldon Adelson will finally have to pay his bill.”]

[For the record, 5:54 p.m., May 14: An earlier version of this post omitted the first name of Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen and gave Sheldon Adelson's age as 78. Adelson is 79. It also incorrectly stated that Suen asked for more than three times the amount of the earlier award because of Sands' extraordinary success in Macao. The earlier post also omitted Sands attorney J. Stephen Peek's first initial.]


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