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Sheldon Adelson Looks Ahead to Opening of $743 million Casino in Bethlehem, PA
 With No Regrets Despite a New Worth Loss of $22 Billion

By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 15, 2009--Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson doesn't look back -- even after a year when he lost $22 billion of his net worth, one of the biggest falloffs of 2008, according to Forbes magazine.

Instead, Adelson is looking ahead to his latest venture: a $743 million casino that will open next Friday in Bethlehem, Pa., about an hour's drive from Philadelphia.

"The project is important for us," Adelson said in a rare interview. "We don't want to fail in any project. We do our best to succeed."

His company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., can only go up. Shares fell more than 95 percent last year.

The Las Vegas Strip has suffered as airlines have cut 15 percent of seat capacity and money-minded gamblers stayed closer to home. Revenue at Adelson's two casino resorts there -- the Venetian and the Palazzo -- are down significantly.

Things got so bad late last year that Adelson used $1 billion of his own money to make a debt payment and keep his once mighty company from filing for bankruptcy.

Las Vegas Sands is ferociously trimming costs to improve cash flow.

Adelson announced another round of layoffs Wednesday, this time 4,000 at his Sands Macao and Venetian Macao casinos, which have been squeezed by the global economic recession and Chinese visa restrictions to reduce the number of mainlanders going to Macao to gamble. Those layoffs come on top of the 11,000 he made in the fall.

But none of that has fazed the college dropout and son of a Boston cabdriver and a knitting instructor.

"Nobody could have read the crystal ball two years ago, except the perennial cynics," said Adelson, whose soft-spoken manner reminds one of a favorite uncle instead of one of the world's gambling titans.

"Yes, we have suffered a diminution of income, both gross and net," he said, "but we have instituted a couple of hundred million in cost savings. It will take a few months for the cost savings to kick in and for us to come back close to where we were before."

Despite the challenges in Macao, where revenue is off 13 percent from a year ago, Adelson has no regrets of being the first American to build casinos in that part of the world.

"You can always say I spent too much money on this or that," he said. "I certainly would do it again."

Adelson, 75, described by those who have worked with him as ambitious, focused, and driven, is committing the same level of intensity to the company's turnaround as he did in building it from scratch.

With Adelson as owner, Las Vegas Sands has grown from a company with 4,000 employees in a single market (Las Vegas) to one with 30,000 employees and a global presence.

Besides properties in Las Vegas, Macao, and now Pennsylvania, Las Vegas Sands plans to open a $5 billion integrated resort casino in Singapore by early next year.

Adelson is credited with developing the Las Vegas convention business with the Sands Expo Center, which was created in 1991 exclusively to cater to it. When he built the Venetian, he put only suites in its hotel -- something never tried before. He integrated a high-end mall modeled after a neighborhood in Venice with a faux canal and gondolas and made shopping "an experience."

"He's viewed as a visionary with lots of gusto," said Andrew Zarnett of Deutsche Bank AG. "He basically created a new segment of customer -- the conventioneer -- that hadn't frequented Las Vegas."

To engineer his company's turnaround, Adelson got rid of his top management this year.

Former Sands president William Weidner was ousted in March, and Brad Stone, executive vice president and president of global operations and construction, resigned two weeks later. Mark Brown, former president of the Sands Macao and the Venetian Macao and a former Donald Trump protege in Atlantic City, was let go last month.

Las Vegas Sands has a new president and chief operating officer, Michael Leven; a new chief financial officer, Kenneth Kay; and a new general counsel, Alberto Gonzalez.

"There comes a time when you refresh management, and that's what we've done," Adelson said. "It takes a different mind-set and different skill set to operate a company with a global presence.

"When a company ends up making mistakes, you can't rely on people who made them to fix them. You can say that with the growth of any company. There's no company that can't be improved."

The credit crisis has forced the man who likes to think and build big to modify some plans, including holding off on new casinos in Macao. A hotel, a retail mall, some restaurants, and condos are on hold at the Sands Bethlehem Casino until the economy improves.

"There are signs that things are turning around," Adelson said. "High-yield bonds are being sold. There are signs that the market is starting to loosen up, TARP money is being given back with interest, and the stimulus is working.

"If that's the case . . . then the market will turn itself around."

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Sheldon Adelson

Job: Chief executive officer and chairman, Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Age: 75.

Born: Boston.

Parents: His father was

a cabdriver and mother a knitting instructor.

How he chose the gaming industry: By accident. He needed enough land to build a convention center, and the Sands Casino in Las Vegas had space available.

Person he admires: His wife, Miriam, a physician who runs drug-treatment centers in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv, Israel.

Last book read: Night by Elie Wiesel.

Pasttimes: Traveling and spending time with his children.

Business philosophy: Change the status quo.

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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To see more of The Philadelphia Inquirer, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.philly.com/inquirer.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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