Republican donor Adelson says has not decided who to back in US election

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is CEO of Las Vegas Sands.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is CEO of Las Vegas Sands. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

MACAU (REUTERS) - United States billionaire and major Republican Party donor Sheldon Adelson said on Friday (Dec 28) he may wait until next February's primaries to decide who to back in the 2016 presidential election, describing the field of candidates as "all very good".

"Contrary to what people have been reading in the political publications, the Adelson family has not made up its mind as to who, if anybody, we are going to support," said the 82-year-old gambling tycoon.

Adelson, Chief Executive Officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp was speaking at a news conference in Macau, the world's largest gambling hub, called to mark the formal opening of his new St Regis hotel in the former Portuguese colony.

"We may just wait until a number of the primaries are already established," said Adelson. The Republican primary season kicks off in Iowa on Feb 1.

More than a dozen candidates are still seeking the Republican Party's nomination for the election. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Donald Trump leading the field with support of 35 per cent of Republican voters, with Ben Carson second on 12 per cent, followed by Ted Cruz and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tied at 10 per cent.

Adelson, who hosted Tuesday's (Dec 15) Republican Party presidential debate at his Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, is widely expected to be the top Republican donor in next year's election, although he has yet to formally endorse a candidate.

He said on Friday (Dec 18) that any candidate would be better than what the United States has today, referring to President Barack Obama.

Most Republican candidates have assiduously courted his approval, travelling to Las Vegas to meet Adelson, who Forbes magazine says is the 15th richest man in America. Adelson is known for his ardent support of Israel and his desire to ban online gaming.

Some media have reported he was also scheduled to meet presidential hopeful Trump ahead of the Las Vegas debate this week.

The billionaire was umasked on Wednesday (Dec 16) as the new owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper, the largest in the state of Nevada, an important swing state. He bought the newspaper for US$140 million (S$198 million) in a deal shrouded in secrecy that grabbed global attention.

MACAU TURNAROUND?

Adelson's Las Vegas Sands company derives the bulk of its revenue from casinos in the global gaming hub of Macau, an hour's ferry ride from the Asia financial centre of Hong Kong.

Discussing business prospects there, Adelson said that a long-term slide in Macau's gaming market was close to bottoming out, with a turnaround in sight in 2016 after 18 consecutive months of revenue declines.

"We are at the beginning of the shift in the cycle from a recession-type economy to a bottoming out, and I think the economy and Macau's fortunes will turn around," he said.

Revenue in Macau, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, has long been squeezed by a combination of slowing economic growth and a broader crackdown on corruption targeting illicit money outflows.

Adelson said he expected the opening in 2017-18 of a bridge that will link the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai to Macau and the Asia financial centre of Hong Kong will further boost business in the gambling hub.