Las Vegas Sands Corp., the U.S. gambling company controlled by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is being sued for $375 million in a Macau court over the way it won a lucrative gaming license in the Asian casino hub.
Asian American Entertainment Corp. claims in a lawsuit that Las Vegas Sands breached its contract by going behind its back to team up with another company to bid for the license.
Asian American is controlled by Taiwanese-American businessman Shi Sheng Hao, also known as Marshall Hao. It's suing Las Vegas Sands for 3 billion patacas ($375 million). The Macau lawsuit follows an earlier one filed in Nevada, which was dismissed.
Jorge Menezes, the Macau lawyer acting for Asian American, said Thursday that Hao "really feels that he was let down by Adelson." He declined to comment on the details of the case.
Macau, which is the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, raked in $33.5 billion in revenue last year from 34 casinos. Macau became the world's most lucrative gambling market after a four-decade casino monopoly was ended in 2002, opening the way for foreign operators to enter the market.
Under the laws of Macau, a former Portuguese colony that's now a semiautonomous region of China, defendants have two months to reply to lawsuits. Menezes said the case will most likely go to trial next year.
Sands China Ltd., which operates the company's three Macau casinos, called Asian American's legal case "meritless."
"The company will vigorously defend the matter in court," it said Thursday in a statement filed to the Hong Kong stock exchange where Sands China is listed.
In late 2001 as Macau prepared to open bids for three casino licenses, Hao thought a Venice-themed resort modeled on the one in Las Vegas would be successful in Macau, according to an English translation of the lawsuit.
Hao teamed up with Las Vegas Sands, which owned the original Venetian resort, and signed a letter of intent with the company in October 2001 to bid for a license.
The suit claims Las Vegas Sands later partnered with another company, Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment, and submitted a proposal for a Venetian-style casino resort that was almost identical to the one filed in its bid with Asian American _ without telling its first partner.
Asian American says Las Vegas Sands "unlawfully and wrongfully appropriated" its casino bid. The company says it didn't learn that Las Vegas Sands had broken off their agreement until Galaxy was announced as one of the winners in February, 2002.
Las Vegas Sands later ended its partnership with Galaxy, which opened its own casino in Macau last year.
The Venetian Macao opened in 2007. Las Vegas Sands' has about a fifth of the gambling market Macau, and Adelson has predicted that rate will rise once it opens a fourth casino next month.
It's not the first time that Las Vegas Sands has been sued over the way it acquired its Macau gambling license. In 2008, Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen, who claimed he helped Las Vegas Sands win the license, won a $43.8 million verdict in a civil lawsuit filed in Nevada against the company. But in 2010 the Nevada Supreme Court ordered a retrial.
In 2009, the company settled another lawsuit for an undisclosed sum with three men who claimed they helped its entry into Macau by pairing it up with Galaxy.
Las Vegas Sands also faces a legal battle with Steven Jacobs, a former chief executive of the Macau properties, who's suing the company and Adelson in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Online: Sands China statement: http://bit.ly/xkOllN
Follow Kelvin Chan at twitter.com/chanman