As one of the most powerful men in the U.S., Sheldon Adelson transcends the gaming industry. A friend of Israel and conservative political candidates, Adelson also happens to be a transformative character in gaming. His meetings-and- convention-centric business at the Venetian in Las Vegas was surpassed by his massive Cotai Strip in Macau, and bested again by his iconic Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. So his appearance this year at G2E—a day after a keynote speech by his current best friend, Steve Wynn—was a moment to be savored. With nearly 1,000 people in attendance, Adelson sat down for an intimate conversation with GGB Publisher Roger Gros—with Wynn in the front row. The following are some excerpts from the interview. For a full video recap of the presentation, including a passionate defense of his controversial views on iGaming, see the video above.
GGB: Why did so many people doubt you when you bought the Sands in Las Vegas and began to transform it to a convention center and hotel? And then continued to doubt you as you entered Asia?
Adelson: I’ve been in business for 69 years. And after my first dozen businesses I began to realize that they only way you can really get ahead is to do things differently than they were being done. I came to learn that if you do things differently success will follow you like a shadow. When I get into an industry, I study how that industry works and then see if there are opportunities by doing things differently. And I’m a risk-taker, so nobody thought of doing it the way I did. They were satisfied with the status quo and I’m never satisfied with the status quo.
What was your idea when you wanted to develop the Cotai Strip in Macau?
If you were looking at the Las Vegas Strip, and you could get a couple of huge helicopters with slings underneath, and you could transport the Strip to Macau, could you succeed? The answer was yes. Steve (Wynn) and Caesars had made great careers out of bringing Asians to Las Vegas, so why not bring Las Vegas to Asia? Well, I couldn’t find any big helicopters, so I just decided to reconstruct it over there. The government thought it was great, but many people thought I was going to fail. But now they are all there.
Macau has had some problems recently in the VIP junkets and revenues have slumped. What’s happening now?
Since I’ve been in Macau for 15 years, everything has been cyclical. It’s like gambling. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. When they tried to limit visas for a while, they never announced when they were cracking down and when they were loosening up. Surprisingly to me, in the last few days they’ve announced that the current crackdown on corruption in China is just about over because they’ve achieved their goals.
I think the players that want to stay below the radar might stay away for a few more months, but they’ll come back and play more once they get comfortable.
Why did you build something so iconic in Singapore with Marina Bay Sands? Why didn’t you just recreate a Venetian there?
Well, the competition had an architectural component to it. They said about 20 percent to 30 percent of the decision would be made on the architecture. And we had a great architect, Moshe Safdie. Actually, the bridge on the top wasn’t in his original plans. When he finished the design I noticed there was no pool. Now you have to have a swimming pool, but we had such a small piece of land, there wasn’t room for one. So I said just put it on the roof. Now I didn’t expect him to build the SkyPark, but that’s what he did and, it is the best.
Now I do believe in iconic buildings. When we’re competing with other companies you have to be the best.
You declined to bid on a casino license in Massachusetts, which some found curious because you are a native of the state. Why didn’t you bid?
My business model of an integrated resort works best in the middle of a city or on the edge of a city because we need the other tourism infrastructure to support it. We need restaurants, other hotels, local transportation, airports and more. There was no downtown location in Boston where my business model could work. And besides, I saw the possibility of New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine expanding their casino offerings, not to mention New York. So with this kind of competition, I didn’t think my business model would work outside of downtown Boston.
In New Jersey, you never wanted to go into Atlantic City, but now that they are considering a casino at the Meadowlands in North Jersey, would you be interested in bidding for that?
Yes! (Lengthy pause with laughter) What? It would be a very attractive development. It depends upon what New Jersey wants.
But it’s a two-edged sword. One morning you could wake up and the governor of New York would see the money we’re taking at the Meadowlands and open a casino in New York to keep the money there. You’ll still have northern New Jersey. But it’s just a matter of travel time. If you can get there faster, that’s the deciding factor.
But could it, for five or six years, give you an excellent return on invested capital? Yes, so we would be interested in that.
Is the U.S. gaming market completely saturated?
There’s only room for expansion in Texas and South Florida, possibly another casino in Tampa. Again, my model is only successful in a city. I can scale down and be successful in a suburban area, like Bethlehem, which is probably one of the most profitable casinos in a regional market.