LAS VEGAS (AP) — Casino tycoon and GOP super donor Sheldon Adelson delivered a business lesson on Monday during testimony in a multimillion dollar breach of contract case.
Wrapping up three days on the witness stand, Adelson told an attentive jury how he had built his $6.5 billion empire in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.
Dressed sharply in a gray suit and purple tie, and sipping from an oversized coffee cup, the Las Vegas Sands CEO said he saw the same kind of opportunity in Macau in the early 2000s as he had in Las Vegas a decade earlier.
"This industry is a supply driven industry," said Adelson, 79, who is ranked as the ninth richest American by Forbes. "Like the movie 'Field of Dreams,' build it and they will come."
The reclusive mogul presented a more combative face last week, when he spent nine hours under questioning by the legal team representing Richard Suen.
The Hong Kong businessman is suing Sands for $328 million that he claims he is owed for working behind the scenes to help the company win a Macau gambling license.
On Monday, the sometimes tense Las Vegas courtroom took on the feel of a casual business school seminar. Under cross-examination, Adelson spun a tale of risk and reward, interrupted only occasionally by questions from his own attorney.
"It was a swamp. That's where they wanted us to build," Adelson said about the first time he saw the strip of reclaimed land in Macau that now contributes 60 percent of his company's profits.
He pleaded ignorance about the exact profit Sands has reaped from its four casinos in Macau. But he acknowledged the company has done very well on the former Portuguese island that has become the world's biggest gambling mecca.
Last year, Adelson and his wife donated nearly $100 million to Republican causes.
After his testimony, the diminutive Adelson told The Associated Press he noticed the jury had been more attentive on Monday than during the previous week.
Adelson's prickly two days of testimony last week were marked by one moment of high drama. The CEO almost caused a mistrial by flashing unauthorized evidence — brightly colored vintage brochures from his convention business — at the jury.
Sands' attorneys said they had advised him against the stunt. On Monday, Adelson declined to comment on his motivations.
"I can't discuss that; we're in the middle of the trial," he said.
It's the second time Adelson has appeared as the star witness in this case. A jury found for Suen in 2008, but the verdict was thrown out on appeal because hearsay evidence was admitted.
Under oath in the current trial, Adelson acknowledged that the chief operating officer of Sands had agreed in 2001 to pay Suen a "success fee" of $5 million, plus 2 percent of the company's profits from its Macau casinos.
Adelson said he had been unaware of the offer. He also testified that Sands ultimately won the license on its own merits.
On Monday, Judge Rob Bare took the unusual step of allowing jurors to ask their own questions. Most declined to interrogate the intimidating tycoon, whose entourage took up nearly an entire side of the courtroom.
One juror, however, asked three questions, including how Adelson could have been unaware of what his chief operating officer William Weidner was doing. Adelson responded with another page from his business textbook:
"When I was younger, I used to micromanage. But when you have a company of this size, you can't," he said, later adding, "It would be an expression of distrust."
Weidner, who was fired by Adelson in 2009, is expected to testify later this week.
Before he left the stand, Adelson urged the jury not to hold his success against him.
"Even the wealthy deserve justice," he said.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier
- Company Legal & Law Matters
- Sheldon Adelson