President Trump stars in another media storm with reports about attempts to advance major GOP donor and casino boss Sheldon Adelson as a winning bidder in Japan’s casino license race
US President Donald Trump has used his political clout to advance the personal interests of Las Vegas casino boss Sheldon Adelson and help him win one of a limited number of casino licenses in the newly-regulated Japanese gambling market, non-profit newsroom ProPublica writes in a detailed report on the matter.
Mr. Adelson is the founder, Chairman, and CEO of Las Vegas gaming and hospitality giant Las Vegas Sands. The company operates integrated resort properties in Las Vegas, Macau, and Singapore, and is one of a plethora of major casino operators vying for one of the three gaming licenses the Japanese government is set to issue as part of its casino gambling expansion drive.
According to ProPublica, Mr. Adelson and a group of select American CEOs, including two other casino industry executives, attended a breakfast in Washington with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February 2017. Japan’s top official was visiting the then-newly-sworn-in President of the United States, Donald Trump. Here it is important to note that Mr. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, were among the biggest donors of the Trump presidential campaign in 2016, writing checks of $20 million to support the presidential bid of the former fellow casino owner.
Mr. Adelson and the other casino executives attending the breakfast with Mr. Abe reportedly raised the casino issue with the Japanese politician. ProPublica further reports that was not the last time during the Prime Minister’s trip to the US that the casino issue was raised.
According to the newsroom, President Trump himself discussed the topic with Mr. Abe at a meeting at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Two people briefed on the meeting told ProPublica that the US top official raised Mr. Adelson’s casino bid to the Japanese Prime Minister.
It seems that the Japanese side was surprised by the course the conversation took. One of the people briefed on the exchange told ProPublica that the matter was “totally brought up out of the blue”. The report goes on to say that President Trump told Japan’s top highest ranking official that he should really consider Las Vegas Sands’ bid for a gaming license. The Prime Minister only said “thank you” in response, according to accounts from one of the people briefed on the matter.
Mr. Trump reportedly mentioned at least one other major gaming company, but there are different accounts as to whether that company was MGM Resorts International or Wynn Resorts. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, the other operator mentioned by the US President was MGM and Prime Minister Abe reportedly instructed an aide who was present at the meeting to write down the names of the two companies.
President Trump trying to advance the personal interests of one of his biggest donors was a complete break of political protocol, as noted in the ProPublica’s article. It also came as another indication of the broadly-discussed influence Mr. Adelson has in the White House.
Good News for Las Vegas Sands
ProPublica writes that Mr. Adelson has informed Las Vegas Sands shareholders to expect good news and that the company’s more than a decade-long effort to enter Japan may finally pay off.
“The estimates by people who know, say they know, whom we believe they know, say that we’re in the Number 1 pole position,” Mr. Adelson was quoted saying.
Neither the White House, nor the Japanese Embassy in Washington have commented on the matter when reached out to by ProPublica. Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese said in a statement that the global gaming industry has long sought an opportunity to enter the Japanese market and companies, Las Vegas Sands included, have spent massive amounts of money on that effort. The statement went on:
If our company has any advantage it would be because of our significant Asian operating experience and our unique convention-based business model. Any suggestion we are favored for some other reason is not based on the reality of the process in Japan or the integrity of the officials involved in it.
With estimated net worth of $35 billion, Mr. Adelson is one of the world’s richest people. He entered the casino industry in his fifties and quickly expanded his business to create an empire with operations in Las Vegas, Macau, and Singapore, now known to be the world’s three largest casino hubs by annual revenue generated.
It is to be seen whether Las Vegas Sands will be one of the three winning bidders for casino licenses in Japan. The Japanese government is expected to launch the bidding process next year, but winners are not likely to be announced before 2020.
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