CHAIRMAN AND CEO
Las Vegas Sands
CHAIRMAN AND CEO
POWER SCORE: 7,762
POSITION LAST YEAR: 1
CLAIMS TO FAME
• At age 86, undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma but reportedly still engaged on critical company issues
• Leader in Asia’s two top gaming markets, Macau and Singapore
• Conceived Cotai, then a swamp, as Macau’s version of the Las Vegas Strip
• Built iconic Marina Bay Sands, Asian exemplar of convention-driven IR model
UNDER normal circumstances, it would be easier to evaluate Sheldon Adelson’s status in Asian gaming. But Las Vegas Sands Corp’s 28 February announcement that Adelson, now 86 years old, is undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and his absence from three straight earnings calls, creates uncertainty, even though he returned for the company’s most recent 3Q19 call.
There is no question that Adelson has created the leading gaming empire in Asia, on track to deliver US$4.5 billion EBITDA this year, and that he’s in charge, holding the Chairman and CEO positions of LVS and Macau operating subsidiary Sands China, and, with wife Dr Miriam Adelson, a majority of LVS shares. In Singapore, Adelson’s team executes the convention-driven integrated resort model he developed in Las Vegas over the howls of Strip pros who insisted it would never work.
When Macau officials proposed Cotai as the site for The Venetian Macao, it was an unwanted, waterlogged wasteland. But Adelson told Macau officials to hand it over and he’d develop it. None of the other casino licensees wanted in (except, reportedly, Lawrence Ho, landing Melco the City of Dreams site across from The Venetian Macao). Now, thanks to its three mammoth Cotai resorts occupying prime locations with more hotel rooms than all competitors combined, Sands regularly tops Macau gaming market share and absolutely dominates non-gaming revenue categories and profits.
LVS continues to push for a Japan IR, where regulations seem tailor-made for it. Under a similar casino size limit with an entry tax for residents and using no junket promoters, LVS created iconic and exceptionally profitable Marina Bay Sands.
Japan’s rules also mandate that each IR include 100,000 square meters (1.1 million square feet) of MICE space, and that it promote and facilitate tourism to other parts of Japan, playing to Adelson’s roots in the travel business.
Adelson’s non-gaming boldness undoubtedly resonates with Japanese authorities that want to highlight everything but gaming in IRs. The Venetian Macao opened with more than twice the retail space that existed in the entire market to that point. Its massive MICE space and 15,000 seat arena were similarly conceived to create new demand.
LVS says Adelson remains engaged in major business decisions. However with cancer treatment on top of his 18 year battle with degenerative muscle disease neuropathy and advanced age, there’s the question of whether the company can thrive during a prolonged absence. Past performance suggests it can.
When neuropathy struck Adelson in July 2001 and medication made him, in Adelson’s words, “a bit coo-coo” for the next six months, LVS nevertheless managed to win a Macau casino concession, arguably the most important event in company history. Adelson’s deputies found an investment partner – in the wake of 9/11, LVS couldn’t muster the US$500 million bank guarantee required to bid – and sold Macau on the LVS model. When Macau objected to its partner, LVS teamed with Galaxy Entertainment Group to secure a concession.
After Adelson recovered, his insistence on building bigger and faster than Galaxy wanted to poisoned the partnership, and his stubborn brinksmanship gained a subconcession that allowed LVS to operate independently. One way to read that history: LVS can succeed without Adelson – current President and COO Rob Goldstein leads a capable cadre of lieutenants – but needs its resident visionary to achieve the extraordinary.
For the full list of 2019 Asian Gaming Power 50 winners, click here.