Las Vegas Review-Journal looks forward after Adelson sale
Adelson Sees Macau `At or Near’ Bottom of Gambling Downturn.
LAS VEGAS — The family of billionaire casino mogul and GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson confirmed in a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal that they are the new owners of Nevada’s largest newspaper, ending a week of speculation.Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson said he expects Macau’s economy and hard-hit casino industry, in the midst of an 18-month downturn, to start recovering next year. “I think we are either at the bottom or near the bottom and then will turn around in the near future, certainly within 2016,” Adelson, the chairman of Sands China Ltd., said at a press conference in Macau where the casino operator is opening a 400-room St.
The statement in Thursday’s edition follows the announcement last week that the paper was sold for a second time this year to an unidentified buyer, leading to scrutiny about a lack of transparency. Macau’s casino industry has been on a downward spiral since mid-2014 as China’s anti-corruption campaign keeps high rollers at bay and a slowing Chinese economy hurts mass-market gambling. They learned that Patrick Dumont, a Las Vegas Sands Corp. executive, had orchestrated the deal at the behest of his father-in-law, Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and Republican power broker.
News + Media Capital Group LLC bought the paper and some affiliated publications for $140 million, a markup of about 37 percent from the paper’s last sale this year, when the similarly named New Media Investment Group bought it. Sands China fell 0.2 percent to HK$26.25 by the close of trading in Hong Kong, while the Bloomberg Intelligence index of Macau casino stocks dropped 1.7 percent.
The casino operator’s shares have plunged 32 percent so far this year, against the benchmark Hang Seng Index’s 7.8 percent drop. “I do agree with him that the worst is probably behind us and we could see some moderate recovery in 2016,” said Richard Huang, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. “That said, the pace of recovery is likely to be moderate as the market still faces multiple macro headwinds like decelerating growth in Chinese economy.” Sands China, the biggest foreign operator in Macau with four casinos, plans to open its fifth, the $2.7 billion Parisian Macao, in nine to 10 months, Adelson said. But given the in-house sensitivities, editors continued working on the story and sent it to the publisher around 3:30 p.m. local time to get his clearance. The Cotai Strip project, featuring a half-size Eiffel Tower replica, is hoping to get government approval for 250 new gambling tables, he said. “We should have enough tables — we have asked for 450 but nobody is getting what they hope for,” said the 82-year-old tycoon. “We are hoping to get treated fairly which I’m quite confident the Macau government will do with us.” Adelson, who has an estimated net worth of $22 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, added in an interview that he hopes Sands China will stand to benefit from its contributions to Macau when its 20-year gaming concession comes up for renewal after expiring in 2022. “Right from the very beginning we’ve done exactly what the government wanted us to do — and people say we helped change the face of Macau,” Adelson said. “If that’s the case, we should be getting at least what everybody else is getting to be fair, and hopefully we get something extra.” The key is to building a relationship based on trust with the government, said Sands China president Wilfred Wong during the same interview. The publisher was flying at the time, so the reporting team had no choice but to wait, along with much of the newsroom that congregated around the city desk in anticipation. They considered what they’d tweet when they finally got the publisher’s go-ahead. “I was going to turn off my cellphone for a while,” Howard Stutz, an 11-year veteran who covers the gaming industry, recalled of that anxious period.
Stutz said he and his colleagues already had the buyer’s name and information ready to go. “We pretty much had to ignore at that point what the other outlets were doing,” he said. The Review-Journal published the story online, and the presses were running for the print edition when publisher Jason Taylor ordered those quotes from Schroeder and Hengel to be removed. We don’t own the press.” The Review-Journal team had reason to believe Adelson had owned the press since Friday, though they had been unable to confirm it.
They knew that Adelson had tried buying the paper before, and they had discovered business ties to Schroeder, who they also learned was staying in a suite in Adelson’s Venetian hotel last week. DeHaven reported Friday night that the unknown buyer spent $140 million on the Review-Journal and several small papers — a sum nearly triple what the flagship paper had fetched in a sale just nine months earlier. DeHaven followed up Monday with more details pointing to Adelson, but still not confirming him as the buyer. (That same day, about two-dozen Review-Journal staffers tweeted the Society of Professional Journalists’ “Code of Ethics” in protest of their new owner’s lack of transparency).
Wright said it became stressful in recent days as competitors pounced on the mystery, which had become a hot topic on social media as Republican presidential candidates headed to the Venetian Tuesday night for a debate on CNN. Jeb Bush visited the Review-Journal editorial board that day and joked that maybe rival Donald Trump was the buyer. “Obviously we wanted to report this first,” Wright said. “It was our paper and our story.
Robison said “there’s really no way to compare” the past week to her previous 10 years at the paper. “It was incredibly stressful, incredibly tense,” she said. “In the end, we did our jobs and we did them the right way.” For DeHaven, the Adelson story will be his last at the Review-Journal. In a Nov. 30 note to the staff, DeHaven praised his soon-to-be-former colleagues’ journalistic chops. “You might not know what a relief it was to have landed here,” DeHaven wrote. “This place is a refuge for real journalism. In a world of still-shrinking newsrooms and ever-expanding opportunities for ‘native ad content,’ you guys have curated a thriving habitat for reporters and editors who do not kowtow to advertisers and do not mind upsetting the status quo.” Wright said he doesn’t intend for the newsroom to have an adversarial relationship with the Adelson family.
Adelson understands that what he bought was not an extension of his public relations office, that he bought some pretty independent-minded journalists who are not going to simply take no for an answer, are not going to roll over, and are going to stand up for the ethics of our profession,” Wright said.
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