Sheldon Adelson has temporarily stepped down as chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands and Sands China due to the return of cancer. The 87-year-old has taken a medical leave to battle non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which had been in remission after a similar problem in Mach 2019.
Longtime LVS President Rob Goldstein has been named acting chairman and CEO for both companies. Goldstein joined LVS in 1995 and was named president in 2015.
During his first bout with the disease, Adelson didn’t take a medical leave, but instead allowed Goldstein to conduct shareholder conference calls each quarter for a year. The company said at the time that Adelson was still “fulfilling his duties” as chairman and CEO. This time is different.
Adelson and his wife Miriam, an accomplished doctor, own about 58 percent of the company stock. The company is valued at $45 billion at this time.
Goldstein is a well-regarded executive and analysts say his ascension to chairman will not change corporate strategy in any way. In fact several analysts—Jefferies’ David Katz and JP Morgan’s Joe Greff—reiterated a “buy” on LV stock following the announcement.
The rating is no doubt reflective of a possible buy of Australia’s Crown Resorts by LVS following a New Year’s Eve rendezvous of the yachts owned by Adelson and Crown majority owner Jamie Packer in the Caribbean. Crown is under fire in several Australian jurisdictions for corporate irregularities, and a purchase by LVS makes the most sense for a resolution of that issue.
But in its 2019 annual report, LVS said the departure of any of the three top executives—Adelson, Goldstein or CFO Patrick Dumont, Adelson’s son in law—would be serious.
“The loss of their services or the services of other senior managers, or the inability to attract and retain additional senior management personnel could have a material adverse effect on our business,” the report said.
Adelson’s absence comes at a critical time for the company, particularly in Asia, even without a potential Crown buyout.
Next month, Sands China is planning the grand opening of the Londoner, a themed casino that is replacing the former Cotai Central hotels. In less than two years, the concession Sands China won 20 years ago is up for renewal, but that is expected to be extended another two years as the Macau government overhauls its gaming laws.
Analysts, however, have faith in Goldstein and contend that he will honor any commitment Adelson has made to foreign governments, including Singapore, where LVS plans a $3 billion edition to Marina Bay Sands.
Deutsche Bank analysts put it this way: “As it pertains to the international activities of LVS, we believe relevant governments are aware that the commitments made by Mr. Adelson, on behalf of the company, are generational and as such, we do not believe there will be concerns around a change in strategy in Mr. Adelson’s absence.”
And in the U.S., Adelson had expressed interest in leaving Las Vegas, where his convention business at the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Expo Center, has been hard hit by the pandemic. Listening to experts who say it may take years to recover, if ever, there has reportedly been some interest from other U.S. gaming companies such as Hard Rock International and the Tilman Fertitta’s Golden Nugget.
James F. Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming, appeared on Fox Business in September, when he said he expected Las Vegas to make a strong return once tourism returns.
“The business in Las Vegas midweek is still very soft,” he said at the time. “We are a believer in the Las Vegas market on a long-term basis.”
But even if he leaves Las Vegas, Adelson has his eyes set on Texas where he’s lobbying heavily for the approval of gaming in that state. In the past he’s also been a player in discussions about a casino in Atlanta if Georgia ever legalizes full-scale gaming. And the crown jewel of all, New York City, is expected to open discussions on gaming there in a short while.