CHAIRMAN AND CEO
Las Vegas Sands
CHAIRMAN AND CEO
POWER SCORE: 5,900
POSITION LAST YEAR: 2
CLAIMS TO FAME
- Father of Cotai and the convention driven IR business model
- Back at work at age 87 after treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Expanding widely admired properties in Macau and Singapore
- Withdrew from Japan; seeking other Asia opportunities, including acquisitions
He’s baaack! After medical issues in 2019, Sheldon Adelson appears to have returned in full flower. The May announcement of Las Vegas Sands’ withdrawal from Japan’s integrated resort competition is a bold move straight out of Adelson’s playbook, one that seems to have given a wake up call to the entire industry and perhaps Japan’s leadership.
Adelson wields such influence because he’s created the 800 pound gorilla of the gaming business. LVS has a market capitalization more than twice the size of any US rival, as well as the largest market cap among Macau rivals on the Hong Kong stock exchange, its Sands China subsidiary slightly edging Galaxy Entertainment, which is how Macau market share figures tend to run as well.
With three IRs lining the central boulevard of Cotai that Adelson remade from swampland into Macau’s version of the Vegas Strip, Sands holds a huge lead in hotel rooms and retail over the rest of the field and tops the high market mass gaming and non-gaming segments. Although recovery from COVID-19 likely centers on premium players, the mass market represents the future as Macau and Beijing authorities try to reposition the city as a travel destination for China’s middle class. That strategy may help offset Adelson’s role as a major donor to US President Donald Trump in Macau’s concession retendering, scheduled for 2022.
Still, Sands hasn’t ignored Macau’s premium market, adding suite accommodations at Four Seasons and The Londoner – the rebranded Sands Cotai Central that’s the centerpiece of its US$2.2 billion capital investment program in Macau, scheduled to begin coming online this year before COVID-19 intervened.
In Singapore, Marina Bay Sands remains the world’s most admired IR, and in most years, its most profitable. This iconic addition to Singapore’s skyline, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has a sun splashed shopping mall and that famous rooftop infinity pool but, above all, it exemplifies Adelson’s convention-driven IR model.
Adelson came to gaming from MICE, purchasing the venerated Sands Hotel to build his own convention center and developing the original Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip to ensure his convention customers wouldn’t lose their rooms to gamblers. The model hasn’t yet blossomed in Macau, but it’s proven a perfect fit for Singapore.
Already an international business, financial and travel hub, Singapore received a critical piece of convention hardware with Marina Bay Sands’ 1.3 million square feet (121,000 square meters) of convention and exhibition space, packaged with more than 2,500 guest rooms. Last year, Singapore’s government granted LVS a long-sought parcel for expansion and extended the gaming duopoly through 2030. LVS has committed to spend US$3.3 billion to add a 1,000 room hotel tower with its own rooftop pool, a 15,000 seat arena and, crucially, more MICE space, since the company says it can’t accommodate all the events that want to book.
Marina Bay Sands’ reputation as a tourism promotion tool – Singapore and LVS officials tend to gloss over the impact of the 2008-09 global recession depressing visitor arrivals before the IRs debuted in 2010 – its success in an environment where local residents pay an entry free to gamble plus the open admiration of Japan’s then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made LVS seem like a natural for Japan.
Japan’s rules dictating the nation’s largest MICE space for each IR also seemed tailor made for LVS. But as the process dragged on and regulations multiplied, Adelson no longer saw returns from Japan meeting his 20% benchmark.
Some believe LVS will return to the Japan competition, particularly if Japan loosens some strings in the wake of COVID-19, and if Adelson can bid on a Tokyo IR, the national financial and commercial center that LVS says it prefers for IRs (Singapore is the only current LVS location that fits that bill). Meanwhile, LVS says it is looking for other development opportunities in Asia and beyond. At age 87, Adelson ain’t done yet.
For the full list of 2020 Asian Gaming Power 50 winners, click here.