Casino Royale

John A. O’Malley argued the case of a lifetime against billionaire Sheldon Adelson

Published in 2014 Southern California Super Lawyers — February 2014

Most people don’t want to battle Las Vegas gaming mogul and self-made billionaire Sheldon Adelson. But in Suen v. Las Vegas Sands Corp., John A. O’Malley, a business litigator with Norton Rose Fulbright, relished the opportunity. “It was a trial lawyer’s dream case,” he says.

Back in 2000, Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen mentioned to Adelson the possibility of getting a gaming license in Macau, a former Portuguese territory, then arranged meetings between Adelson, Sands president William Weidner and Chinese dignitaries in Zhongnanhai.

When Suen asked about payment for his services, Adelson offered $5 million, plus 2 percent of the net profits from Sands Macao, if officials granted the license.

It got its license and today Sands Macao, a Vegas-style casino, brings in millions.

Afterwards, O’Malley says, “Adelson proposed an alternative method of payment,” but without a guaranteed minimum. Suen declined. Then he hired O’Malley.

At trial, Adelson argued Suen wasn’t instrumental in securing the license; Suen argued he was.

Even the 2008 Beijing Olympics factored in. Adelson first met with Chinese officials 12 days before the Olympic Committee voted on a 2008 destination. At that time, a bill was pending before Congress urging the U.S. Olympic Committee to vote against China on the grounds of religious freedom.

“Adelson called his friend and political contact Tom DeLay,” O’Malley says, “who told Adelson that he could tell [the Chinese] that the bill ‘would never see the light of day.’

“You could see it as Adelson got his license, and China got the Olympics.”

In 2008, a Nevada jury awarded Suen $43.8 million. Adelson appealed. “The jury ended up deciding that there was no enforceable contract,” says O’Malley. “But they gave my client $70 million.”

O’Malley expects another appeal but says the case already has broad implications: “All the people who have claims against Americans can come to American courts and expect to get justice.”

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