LAS VEGAS (AP) — Casino mogul and GOP super donor Sheldon Adelson presented a more cantankerous face during his second day of testimony in a breach of contract case in Las Vegas.
He bickered with the judge and disparaged the skills of Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen, who is suing Las Vegas Sands for $328 million he says he is owed for working behind the scenes to help win a gambling license in the Chinese enclave of Macau.
The casino company says it won the license on its own.
Adelson, the company’s CEO, sparred with lead Suen attorney John O’Malley during questioning Friday, prompting several reprimands from the judge. By the end of the morning, he and Judge Rob Bare had developed a running joke about sounding like a bickering couple.
“I think you have something in common with my wife,” Adelson said, after being told he needed to ask permission before taking notes.
Bare broke in 10 minutes later to chastise Adelson for his digressive answers.
“This may sound like your wife again,” he said.
“I get it nighttime and daytime!” Adelson responded.
Later, he drew chuckles from all sides when he urged his attorneys to object to the repetition of a question.
On Thursday, when he first took the witness stand before the packed courtroom, Adelson appeared to enjoy himself, joking and flashing a sly smile as he answered questions about how Sands won entry into Macau in the early 2000s.
On Friday, the 79-year-old self-made multibillionaire rode in the courtroom on a motorized scooter with a phalanx of lawyers, assistants and security speed walking behind.
The day’s questioning focused on documents sent by Sands executives in 2001, including a letter by former Sands president and chief operating officer William Weidner offering Suen a $5 million success fee and 2 percent of net casino profits.
Adelson — the ninth-richest American, according to Forbes— glowered and claimed ignorance of letters and meetings appearing to show the makings of a deal with Suen.
He portrayed himself as a hands-off manager who allowed others to edit his correspondence, sign his name, and make executive decisions for him. Among other things, he cited the effects of a rare nerve illness, peripheral neuropathy, which first struck him in 2000.
“Bill knew more about Macau than I did. Once I got sick, I couldn’t pay attention to anything. It was an extremely difficult period of my life,” he said.
Adelson said Weidner, who left Sands in 2009 amid a dispute, may have made unauthorized offers.
On Friday, Adelson argued that even if he had agreed to pay Suen, the Hong Kong fixer would have had to circumvent a competitive bidding process and hand deliver a gambling license to hold up his end of the bargain.
The company ultimately partnered with Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment in 2002 to apply for one of three available licenses.
Galaxy was awarded one of three gambling licenses, but Adelson said the two companies could not reach an agreement, in part because of Galaxy’s ties to triads, or Chinese gangs.
Macau then awarded Las Vegas Sands a sublicense, a decision that Suen’s lawyers said was a result of their client’s earlier lobbying.
Adelson, who became a national figure last year when he and his wife donated an unprecedented $100 million to Republican causes, repeatedly dismissed Suen’s worth as an advocate and businessman.
“That assumes I didn’t know anything — that I was so stupid I couldn’t explain what I do in my life, and what advantages we offer,” he said.
As the afternoon wore on, Adelson interrupted O’Malley’s questioning to complain that Suen was smirking at him. He went on to accuse former Sands executive Steve Jacobs, who is also suing him, of smirking from the audience.
“It’s very disruptive and the judge asked that there be no disruptions,” he said.
Sands now derives 60 percent of its profits from Macau, where it owns four casinos. The company also operates the Venetian and Palazzo casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
For much of the day, Adelson faced a second interlocutor: himself, on tape.
That’s because this trial played out in Clark County court once before. A jury awarded Suen $58.6 million in 2008, but the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the verdict because the district judge allowed the jury to consider testimony that was found to be hearsay.
O’Malley played the most damning parts of Adelson’s previous testimony, prompting the mogul to mutter after one answer that O’Malley was probably now going to play tape showing that he was contradicting himself.
Adelson, who returns to the witness stand on Monday, rounded out the afternoon by recounting under cross examination by his own lawyers how he’d climbed out of poverty in Boston by working jobs as a paperboy and court reporter.
He addressed the jury directly for the first time, and told them he had dreamed of being a singer, or a lawyer.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier