A $12 billion breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by Taiwanese businessman Marshall Hao against the richest casino company in the world, Las Vegas Sands Corp., finally went to trial Monday in Macau.
Ho claims he is entitled to compensation arising from an aborted partnership between his company, Asian American Entertainment Corp (AAEC), and the US-based casino giant 20 years ago.
LVS and AAEC submitted a joint bid for a Macau gaming licensing in the 2001- 2002 application period, shortly after the government of the special administrative region opted to liberalize the previously monopolistic casino market.
But later, LVS switched to Galaxy Entertainment Group, and it was this partnership that was awarded licensing.
AAEC argues this amounted to a breach of contract by LVS. It seeks 70 percent of LVS’s profits in Macau (around $12 billion) from the launch of the Sands Macao in 2014 through to 2022, the year the license expires.
This trial has been a long time coming. Hao initially sued in Las Vegas in 2007, but that case was dismissed in 2010 on procedural grounds.
In 2012, he sued in Macau. But the case has faced multiple delays, most recently because of COVID-19.
On Monday, testimonies were given by officials who were part of the licensing process, offering a glimpse into the thinking of regulators two decades ago. Many observers at the time felt the awarding of licenses was an opaque procedure.
Two former regulators, Maria Nazaré Saias Portela and Eric Ho Hou Yin, testified Monday that any entity that partnered with LVS had an advantage in winning a license.
That’s because the gaming commission believed the American company could bring the Las Vegas Strip gaming model to Macau, which was highly desirable.
While Galaxy is now a major operator in its own right, at the time it had no experience running a casino.
“It is correct to say the Galaxy bid was selected mostly because of [LVS], as Galaxy had no experiences in gaming [at the time] while [LVS] had,” Ho said Monday.
What Macau needed at the time was to enrich its tourism offerings to attract more travelers, thus sparking the economic recovery,” he added.
Economic recovery is exactly what Macau got. Within five years it had overtaken Las Vegas as the world’s biggest gaming hub, and it turned LVS into the biggest gaming company by revenue.
LVS has said it disputes not only its obligation to AAEC but also the size of the award the lawsuit demands, adding that it “intends to defend this matter vigorously.”