The end of that week brought a less glamorous headline: “Sheldon Adelson Denies Greenlighting A ‘Prostitution Strategy’ At His Macau Casinos.”
On June 28th, the former employee making the accusations, Steve Jacobs, dropped a list of new charges into a sworn declaration, including that he wanted to rid the casino of “loan sharks and prostitution” but was stymied when “senior executives informed me that the prior prostitution strategy had been personally approved by Adelson.” That is all it says, so it’s unclear if the plan purportedly “approved by Sheldon Adelson” was intended to preserve or prevent prostitution. (Local police reportedly arrested more than a hundred prostitutes and twenty-two syndicate leaders in a 2010 operation at Adelson’s Venetian Macau.)
The filing also accused Sheldon Adelson of allegedly hiring illegal workers, and controlling a “Chairman’s Club” that permitted “favored members, including known or suspected organized crime figures.”
Adelson sometimes stays quiet, but in this case he fought back, telling Forbes that the charges were “outrageous” and that his accuser “would make a good fiction writer.” He went on, “He’s very cunning and [he] has decided to exploit the law concerning libel and defamation to cloak himself. He’s abusing the court and the court system to protect himself while he sues us for a hundred or two hundred million dollars that he obviously doesn’t deserve.” Prostitution is largely legal in Macau, but that doesn’t make it an elegant business with which to be associated, and Adelson pointed to the fact that his family funds clinics that help drug users, many of them prostitutes. “Would I jeopardize being the 7th richest man in the US and the 14th or 15th richest person in the world to push prostitution? For what? I’m already the most profitable company in consumer services ever. What do I have to win?” he said.
What Sheldon Adelson calls an attack on his character looks positively tame compared to the attacks on some other casino moguls lately in Macau. As the Times reported last week, Macau is abuzz with the news that the investor Ng Man-sun—who has a controlling stake in a publicly traded company—was having dinner two weekends ago with a younger female companion at the restaurant in his own casino, when “six men rushed in and proceeded to beat the couple with hammers and sticks.” The woman was not seriously hurt, but Ng ended up in the hospital, and the Times noted, in the kind of detail that matters, that “Mr. Ng’s arms and legs were badly hurt but … the attackers had avoided hitting him on the head.” To those who know, that is the telltale mark of a “chopping,” to use the triads’ vivid expression, in which a gang does a job on the limbs but leaves the victim alive (to tell the tale, pay the debt, etc.).
Nobody is yet saying what put Ng into the crosshairs, but it might have something to do with his life before he became part of the suit-and-tie, publicly-listed end of the gambling business: ten years ago, he was better known by the name “Street Market Wai” and was involved in triad wars. (Years ago, Time reported that the nickname came from his role in protection rackets in Hong Kong markets.) One of his enemies, Broken Tooth Koi, once vowed of Street Market Wai that “fate will not be kind to him…. I’m going to wipe him out.”)
For much of the last decade, as Sheldon Adelson and other American casino investors plunged deeper into business in Macau, analysts liked to predict that the Americans would clean up the town. Perhaps, but one doesn’t hear that as often these days, at a moment when some of Macau’s old habits have reasserted themselves. That’s the thing about the Golden Bamboozle: it pulls you in.
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