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The Convention King

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson is bringing the Vegas Strip to Macau.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Tiger Woods, May/June 2008

(continued from page 2)

Maybe not. But he eventually took to the business, recognizing that owning an event center and the bunch of disconnected buildings that comprised the Sands wouldn't cut it in the new Vegas. In 1995, he sold Comdex to the Japanese software distributor Softbank for $862 million. In 1996, he used some of that money and 100 pounds of dynamite to implode the Sands and began building The Venetian. Eventually he brought a lot of innovations to the Vegas hotel-casino market: minibars and in-room safes (the old thinking was that you wanted to make customers walk across the gaming floor to retrieve cash from the cage or have a late-night Scotch), fax machines in the rooms and an all-suite hotel. In 1999, The Venetian opened in Las Vegas and, at age 65, Adelson embarked on the most successful business venture of his career.

Anytime you interview Sheldon Adelson, it feels as if there is an 800-pound gorilla sitting in the room, not waiting to pounce, but definitely taking up space and serving as a bit of a distraction. That gorilla is the long-running feud that Adelson has with fellow Vegas billionaire Steve Wynn. It peppers our conversation in a surprisingly blunt way. I was warned ahead of time about a journalist who came to interview Adelson with the hidden agenda of getting him to dish on his problems with Wynn, and how it ticked off Adelson.

So I tread lightly on the subject, preparing to skirt it all altogether, but it takes only a small suggestion for that 800-pound gorilla to rise up and overtake everything in sight—as it has done so many times in the past. The beast awoke as Adelson told CNN that he's learned nothing from Wynn but that Wynn has learned plenty from Adelson. In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Adelson expressed hope that Wynn does not achieve success in Macau "because I don't think he deserves it." And three years ago, as reported on MSNBC, there was a major battle between the two moguls over the size of the Palazzo's parking lot. "Why does he have to give us such a hard time?" Adelson now wonders. "That parking lot baloney delayed us two years and cost us a couple billion dollars."

Adelson says the troubles date back to when he was trying to get financing for The Venetian. He claims a representative of Wynn's went to his investment bank, Goldman Sachs, and said, "If you finance Sheldon Adelson, you cannot finance Steve Wynn or the Mirage corporation." Wynn says, "I was informed that [an employee of mine] made disparaging remarks. I asked him not to do it and asked him to apologize to Sheldon."

At the opening of the Palazzo, Adelson says that Wynn walked around and declared, "It looks like a retail mall. Who wants to go to a hotel that looks like a retail mall?" Adelson stews for a minute, then says, "It's a beautiful place." As Wynn remembers it, he made a comment directly to his wife. "I said that the first impression you get, coming over from my hotel, is that of a shopping center, not a hotel," says Wynn. "It's a hotel in a shopping center rather than a shopping center in a hotel."

Entertaining as it is to watch a couple of billionaires duke it out in the media, it's a bit strange. For all their success, intelligence and business savvy, you'd think that they'd figure out a way to work together or at least keep their differences private. But they won't, and who am I to smother those entertaining flames of dissent? Even Charlie Rose, a good friend of Wynn's, seemed to enjoy it when Adelson knocked his adversary on Rose's PBS talk show. When Rose supported Wynn by playing up the casino magnate's design skills, Adelson cut him off and said, "I think [Wynn] got insulted once because I asked him to do PR for me. That's how good I think he is."

The "shopping mall" insult begs a question: what does Adelson think of Wynn Las Vegas? He smiles tightly and dismissively replies, "I wouldn't know. I've never been in there."

Michael Kaplan is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.

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