|By Jennifer Robison, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 30, 2010--An international news wire service is questioning potential ties between the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a Macau-based businessman alleged to have ties to organized crime.
A report from Reuters says an examination of Hong Kong court records, U.S. depositions of a former Sands executive and interviews with law enforcement in the United States and Macau show a connection between Sands, which operates Sands Macau in China and The Venetian and Palazzo on the Strip, and Cheung Chi-tai, an investor in a company that helps bring wealthy clients to casinos in Macau.
According to Reuters, a Sands Macau patron also said that Cheung ran one of the VIP rooms at the property.
Cheung has been accused of masterminding a scheme to murder a Sands Macau dealer suspected of helping a patron cheat millions of dollars from the business, the report said.
The allegations could have legal implications in Nevada for Las Vegas Sands: The state's Foreign Gaming Act requires officials here to determine if professional relationships involving international business partners and locally based casino operators would damage Nevada's reputation.
Similar legal issues recently emerged in a case involving MGM Mirage.
The company's MGM Grand Macau is half-owned by Hong Kong businesswoman Pansy Ho, whose father, Stanley Ho, has extensive ties to organized crime groups, or triads, in China.
The state Gaming Control Board and the Nevada Gaming Commission spent several days in 2007 vetting the relationship between Pansy Ho, Stanley Ho and MGM Mirage. The board eventually found that joint-venture documents between MGM Mirage and Pansy Ho had sufficient safeguards to keep a third party from influencing the operation.
But the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement found on March 17 that Pansy Ho depends on her father and his money and remains under his influence. MGM Mirage said it will sell its half of Atlantic City's Borgata hotel-casino to avoid running afoul of New Jersey's rules and regulations.
Ron Reese, a spokesman for Las Vegas Sands, declined to comment separately to the Review-Journal on the Reuters report, saying that the company's responses would be the same as the statements executives gave to Reuters.
In that story, Las Vegas Sands officials said that, to their knowledge, Cheung is not listed as a director or shareholder with any gaming promoters the company uses in Macau. The operator also said it manages all its VIP rooms.
Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander didn't return a call seeking comment for this story. Randall Sayre, a member of the control board, told Reuters he wouldn't comment specifically on Sands Macau.
Nevada's biggest casino operators, including Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts Ltd. and MGM Mirage, poured billions of dollars' worth of development into the market to capitalize on large and lucrative Asian gaming markets.
In addition to the Sands Macau, Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian Macau and the Four Seasons Hotel Macau.
In its Macau dealings, Las Vegas Sands Corp. has already seen its fair share of legal entanglements.
In May 2008, a jury awarded Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen almost $58.6 million for his help in introducing Las Vegas Sands executives to Chinese government officials. The assistance was key to getting the company a gaming license to operate in Macau, Suen argued. The case is on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
A similar case a year later resulted in a June 2009 settlement with three men who sought payment for help they provided the company as it obtained its Macau gaming license.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at email@example.com or 702-380-4512.
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