Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that The Las Vegas Sands settled a wrongful dismissal case initiated by former Sands China CEO Steve Jacobs for somewhere between $75 million and $100 million. It's uncertain how much Jacobs was asking for from the Sands when he initiated the wrongful dismissal lawsuit, but according to a 2010 article in the Las Vegas Sun, Jacob's salary was $830,350 and his total compensation after bonuses was $1.4 million. So there's a good chance that Jacobs was seeking only a fraction of what they provided him this week. After all, no one is guaranteed a job and even in the case of a senior manager they are often just given a golden handshake. But the large settlement given to Jacobs likely represents the potential salary plus bonuses lost for the length of the contract he agreed to (which is what he would have asked for originally), as well as court and lawyer costs and a tidy sum related to possible harm to Jacob's character.
But the real question is what exactly did the Las Vegas Sands gain from this 6-year long case other than embarrassment, having its name dragged through the mud and creating resentment towards the company and its management as a result of the allegations brought out by Jacobs in court and in the initial court filing?
The answer seems to be "nothing". Let's be clear - a decade ago when anyone in the industry thought about the Las Vegas Sands they thought about the Venetian and Palazzo, which are clearly two of the best casinos in Las Vegas, they thought about the Las Vegas Sands in Macau, which seemed to be the envy of all casino operators in Asia, and they thought about Sheldon Adelson, a rich business tycoon with strong ties to the Republican Party. But, most people had great respect for the company and Adelson, whether they agreed with his politics or not. But now when anyone mentions the Sands they have to think about all the shenanigans that came out related to the company as a result of Jacobs' wrongful dismissal suit. Since 2010 we learned from the Jacobs' suit (and it should be clear that the Sands denies much of it) that The Sands condoned and promoted a prostitution operation, that they agreed to deals with local gangs who ran junkets, and that they handsomely paid "beards" to peddle influence with the Chinese government. And as for Adelson, comments he made personally in the pre-trial when they were trying to determine jurisdiction have brought him down many pegs with some of his colleagues and peers. Let's review some of the comments he made at the trial:
"This Jacobs never became important until he squealed like a pig to the government authorities and made up stories."
"He wanted to throw out 50%, 60% of the income by throwing out the junkets. This was insanity. He purposely tried to kill the company."
"There's a lot of Ngs in Macau. It's not as common as Kim or Park in Korea, but there's a lot of Ngs."
Moreover, he accused Jacobs of somehow "hypnotizing" the company's lawyers into looking into potential illegal dealings by Leonel Alves, a Macau legislator and consultant for the Sands whose job was to put pressure on the Chinese government and to smooth over situations with the government when Adelson upset them. Adelson also got into a sparring match with the judge, Elizabeth Gonzalez, accusing her of not doing her job right. In fact, Adelson even tried to get her removed as the judge for the case. Needless to say all these antics just left observers shaking their heads.
And according to reports by the Wall Street Journal the company's lawyers wanted Adelson to settle early with Jacobs because they were concerned that it could turn ugly. And that is indeed what took place. A meeting with Jacobs in 2010 giving him his fair termination pay along with a signed letter of non-disclosure to ensure he did not go public with any of the actions of the company could have avoided the whole situation. But it appears Adelson made it personal, viewing Jacobs as a foe who tried to ruin his company and he did not want Jacobs to benefit in any way. Instead he and company lawyers tried several moves, none of which worked.
First he tried to get the case heard in China, where he could use his influence, rather than Nevada, but it was clear the case was always going to be heard in Nevada; second, he tried to get the case delayed over and over likely hoping it would eventually just go away, which of course was never going to happen; and he only settled once the company had played all their cards and it was clear the case was going to be heard in Nevada starting in September. But the question that comes to mind is does Adelson regret the decision to fight so hard against Jacobs?
The answer is uncertain but he probably doesn't.
According to a Wall Street Journal article in 2012 he told one of the reporters: "If we had known he was going to cause so much trouble, yeah, we would have given him what he wanted," but, needless to say, that wasn't so much an admission of wrongdoing or an indication that Adelson regrets his decisions, but rather a sign that he was upset it got to the point it did. In a way it's like a player in a poker game who finally is caught gaining an unfair advantage and makes a statement that he's sorry for his actions, although in reality he was just sorry he got caught.
But actions speak louder than words and if Adelson and The Sands really wanted this to go away, it could have years ago, even after Jacobs launched his lawsuit. Sure the information and claims by Jacobs were out there, but they were really only picked up and talked about in the media last year when the case went to the Nevada courts and Adelson took the stand. A settlement any time before that would have minimized the damage. But by the time Adelson went on the stand he made it personal and any CEO will attest that doing so is the worst thing any businessman can do. Business is one thing and at times you just have to bite the bullet and settle, because the alternative will only cause more trouble.
To its credit it seems the Las Vegas Sands and Adelson have finally decided that it's best to settle everything related to Macau and move on. In April of this year the company agreed to pay the SEC $9 million to settle a suit brought against them by the SEC for incidents in Macau and have agreed to appoint an independent monitor to watch over their actions for 2 years. And in May they agreed to pay Nevada Gaming regulators $2 million for actions relating to money laundering and bribery in its Macau and Las Vegas casinos. And by all accounts the company has also backed away from most of the activities that brought on this law suit in Macau, including the junkets.
So this is clearly the old "better late than never" scenario. Assuming that what Jacobs claimed is true, and for their part the Sands still denies many of the claims, then the company should have just agreed to stop the alleged illegal activities, as Jacobs requested them to do or they could have determined that doing so wasn't feasible and settled wtih him for his help to that point and his silence. But dragging it out for almost 6 years and exposing all the ugliness that occurs in Asia not only embarrassed the Las Vegas Sands, but it also brought the whole casino industry into scrutiny.
Hopefully if there is a next time the Las Vegas Sands or any casino company that is put into that situation will think of the long term ramifications before they act.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of OSGA.