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GAMBLING

Adelson ties said to ease Macao bid

He won support for casino after assuring China an anti-Olympic motion in the House would be delayed.

June 16, 2008|Michael A. Hiltzik and Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writers

Adelson had a vision of Macao as "the Las Vegas of the East," Weidner testified. If that were to happen, Adelson's convention, hotel and casino experience plainly would be a plus in the competition for the three licenses, or concessions, that were to be offered in 2002.

A more crucial meeting was with Liu Qi, then the mayor of Beijing and head of its campaign to win the Olympics. Criticism of China's human rights record was threatening to derail the city's bid, which was scheduled for an IOC vote a week later.

Chief among the regime's concerns was a resolution in the House of Representatives urging U.S. Olympic officials to vote the bid down. Introduced by the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), it had 52 co-sponsors, including DeLay and 20 other Republicans.

"Can you help us with the Olympics?" Liu asked, according to Adelson's testimony. "Under the category of not leaving any friendship stone unturned," Adelson said, "I made a few calls."

One call was to DeLay, who said he personally favored the resolution. He also said he was about to confer with his fellow GOP House leaders. Three hours later, Weidner testified, DeLay called back to say that because of a logjam in the agenda, the Olympics resolution would be pushed off until after the IOC vote.

The thrust of his message, Weidner recalled, was: "You tell your mayor, it can be assured that this bill will never see the light of day."

No evidence at the trial established that DeLay or the GOP leadership in the Republican-dominated House moved the bill back to help Adelson. DeLay's representatives did not return calls this week.

Lantos took the floor on July 11, 2001 -- two days before the IOC vote -- to accuse then-Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Texas) of "bottling up this legislation."

During the trial, however, a DeLay spokeswoman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that House leadership killed the measure even before Adelson's phone call.

It is unclear whether the resolution, which was not binding on U.S. Olympic officials, would have wrecked Beijing's chances.

"Did the Chinese think that [Adelson] had been helpful in the Olympics? Yeah, I'm sure they did," defense attorney Rusty Hardin told the jury. "Did the Venetian people try to play on them thinking that? Of course, they did."

Indeed, trial testimony suggested that Macao officials twice went out of their way to rescue the Sands bid from near certain failure: When it became clear that the company's proposed financing partner, a bank with close connections to Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang Party, would be unacceptable to the Chinese regime, Macao's top administrative officer personally "married" Sands to a more palatable partner -- a hotel company owned by a wealthy Hong Kong family. When that alliance broke down, the authorities intervened again by offering Sands a separate concession.

In the end, for one of the coveted concessions, Sands beat out two American bidders with greater experience running casinos -- MGM Mirage and a joint venture of Mandalay Bay Resorts (since acquired by MGM Mirage) and Park Place Entertainment. The others went to Stanley Ho, then the established Macao gaming magnate; Wynn Resorts; and Galaxy Entertainment, Sands' former Hong Kong partner.

Sands executives contend that their proposal for a string of mega-resorts was a perfect fit with Macao's ambitions. They testified that Suen's efforts had nothing to do with their victory and that they kept dealing with him for more than three years because he was a personal friend of Adelson's brother Leonard.

But Suen countered, "We got them the license," he said, "because of my guanxi."

For Adelson, Suen is not the last legal challenge arising from the Macao projects.

Three other middlemen who also claim to have helped arrange the gaming approvals have a separate lawsuit scheduled for trial in Las Vegas state court in December. The Suen verdict "will help us," said their lawyer, Donald Campbell, because it established that go-betweens with the Chinese are entitled to compensation.

Campbell's clients are seeking at least $450 million.

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michael.hiltzik@latimes.com

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ashley.powers@latimes.com

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