Las Vegas Sands facing $15.9 billion claim in Macau court

HONG KONG • US casino giant Las Vegas Sands is facing a US$12 billion (S$15.9 billion) lawsuit from a former partner in a Macau court, in a case set to shine a light over how coveted casino licences were awarded in the world's biggest gambling hub two decades ago.

Former partner Asian American Entertainment Corporation, headed by Taiwanese businessman Marshall Hao, is seeking damages of around 70 per cent of Sands' Macau profits from 2004 to 2022. Reuters calculations put the figure at around US$12 billion.

The trial starting on June 16 alleges that Sands breached its contract with Asian American for a casino licence in Macau, the only legal gambling destination in China.

It comes as the casino titan faces plummeting gambling revenues due to coronavirus travel and health restrictions, and a few months ahead of the expiration of Sands' casino licence in Macau. The operator needs to rebid for a licence via a public tender next year.

Sands, which also owns Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, has been battling the claims from Asian American since 2007, when the case was first launched in the United States.

The case was lodged in Macau in 2012, after the US case was dismissed for statute of limitations and procedural reasons.

It dates to 2001, when Sands and Asian American jointly submitted a bid for a gaming concession. During the process, Sands switched partners, teaming up instead with Hong Kong group Galaxy Entertainment, according to the lawsuit. The Sands-Galaxy combination went on to win a licence over a decade ago.

Mr Hao said Sands terminated its joint venture with Asian American and then submitted a near identical replica of its previous submission with new partner Galaxy.

"Asian American has been winning all major legal battles in the Macau lawsuit since we filed it in 2012... we are confident."

Sands has sought to avoid the trial by lodging legal action in Nevada and Macau. The company declined to comment, but said in 2019 it "has consistently maintained that this case has no merit. We have confidence that ultimately the Macao judicial process will reach the same conclusion".

In its latest annual report, Sands said its management was "currently unable to determine the probability of the outcome of this matter or the range of reasonably possible loss, if any".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2021, with the headline 'Las Vegas Sands facing $15.9 billion claim in Macau court'. Subscribe