Hotel king adds a jewel to his crown

The third-wealthiest man in America is days away from the Friday debut of his splashy Palazzo Resort-Hotel-Casino, the first new hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in three years. His company's stock has seen an epic slide, and a national economic slowdown may dent even this stalwart resort destination.

And yet, Sheldon Adelson moves around his expansive office saying he's unconcerned.

It's his competitors on The Strip who ought to be worried about the opening of the posh, 50-story Palazzo."We will cannibalize them," says Adelson, the 74-year-old CEO and majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands. "We're going to take customers from other hotels."

A fragile, pale man who walks with a cane, Adelson is slowed by a rare nerve disorder in his legs known as plexitis. But in a two-hour interview here last week in connection with the Palazzo, Adelson exuded ambition and confidence.

You'd have to have plenty of both to see through the construction of the $1.9 billion, 3,000-room hotel-casino. With the attached 4,000-room Venetian and Sands Expo and Convention Center, the Palazzo will be part of a 19-million-square-foot edifice that Las Vegas Sands says is the largest hotel-convention complex under one roof in the world.

It's been a staggering effort from a man now known for staggering efforts. He is also behind an effort to construct a Las Vegas Strip-like stretch of seven hotel-casinos with 20,000 rooms in an area of the Chinese region of Macau where once there was nothing but swamp. He's building casino-resorts in Singapore and Bethlehem, Pa., and has applications pending for casino licenses in Massachusetts and Kansas. In the process, the son of a Boston cabbie has blossomed into a multibillionaire, trailing only Bill Gates msft and Warren Buffett brka in the most recent Forbes magazine list of wealthiest Americans, with an estimated net worth of $28 billion.

That estimate, however, predates a steep slide in the value of Las Vegas Sands lvs stock that began last October when Wall Street turned bearish on the value of investments in Macau. Shares on Tuesday closed at $78.67, or 47% below the 52-week high of $148.76.

Outspoken from the start

Adelson has been a well-known and controversial figure in Las Vegas. In the 1980s, he owned the nation's biggest computer trade show, Comdex, bringing thousands of conventioneers to flood the city's rooms and casinos during an otherwise dead pre-Thanksgiving week in November. City leaders were grateful, but Adelson was the one cleaning up. He would rent space from the city convention center for the equivalent of $100 a cubicle and then lease it to exhibitors for sometimes 50 times that.

"I was Las Vegas' biggest customer, and I used to laugh at Las Vegas," he recalled, scooping off and swallowing the foam of a cappuccino. "I would say, 'Why are you charging so little?' I told them, 'You can charge me more.' "

With no background in hospitality or gaming, Adelson decided to revolutionize Las Vegas by first buying the old Rat Pack haunt of the Sands Hotel in 1989, and then attaching it to the largest privately owned convention center in the nation.

Many in Las Vegas scratched their heads over what seemed like folly. But Adelson filled the Sands Expo routinely. In the mid-1990s he demolished its iconic, namesake hotel and sold Comdex for $862 million to help finance the all-suite, $1.5 billion Venetian, which opened in 1999.

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