SÁB 14 DE DEZEMBRO DE 2019 - 12:35hs.
Agência Pública article

Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who targets casinos in Brazil

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, founder and president of Las Vegas Sands, wants to bring a business model to Brazil. The company is the leader in the casino-integrated resort industry worldwide, with nine developments spread across the United States, Singapore and China, with Brazil in its sights. Article by Alice Maciel, from Agência Pública.

According to an investigative report by ProPublica and WNYC, in February 2017, during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Donald Trump mentioned Adelson's interest in building a casino in Japan, according to two newspaper sources. Gambling in the country is legalized and the market competitive. According to the report, for over a decade, Adelson and his company, LVS, have been seeking a license to build a multi-billion dollar casino resort there.

A similar move has taken place to benefit the tycoon's business in Brazil, according to Agência Pública.

As reported by the state of Sao Paulo, the legalization of casinos was a topic of conversation between Trump and Jair Bolsonaro during the visit of the Brazilian president to Washington, on March 19. Two days after this meeting, Tourism Minister Marcelo Álvaro Antônio said that the government should provoke a debate in the National Congress about the possibility of allowing casinos to operate integrated to resorts. Exactly Sheldon Adelson's business model.

When questioned by Agência Pública about the minister's articulations on the matter, the Ministry of Tourism stated in a note: “Firstly, we need to separate the release of casinos integrated with resorts and gambling as a whole. At the moment, this is a subject that is under discussion in the National Congress.” According to the agency, the minister never met businessman Sheldon Adelson.

However, visiting Brazil in May last year, the US billionaire made clear what his interests in the country are. “I am here to consider investing in one or more integrated resorts,” he said in an interview with Valor Econômico. According to the newspaper, "LVS wants casinos to be restricted to tourist resorts - the integrated model that, for the company, is the only one that can bring the desired benefits."

“There are small casinos in Argentina, but we have no interest in that,” Adelson noted. Coincidentally, the same model was defended by the tourism minister, Marcelo Álvaro Antônio.

US$ 10 billion investment promise in Rio de Janeiro with Crivella blessings

One of the main enthusiasts of the idea of resort-integrated casinos has been Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella. Licensed bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and nephew of church leader Bishop Edir Macedo, he met last May with Sheldon Adelson to address the issue. In an interview with Valor Econômico published in December, Crivella said he wants help from the federal government to allow casinos. “People know that if we don't have a job, we will go to social chaos. And only play who wants to play,” he said.

“I fought hard last year, I couldn't, but I want Bolsonaro to help me. Which is [approve] a super license to have a casino. I got a visit from Sheldon Adelson and he's very interested. His idea was to buy [the airport area] Santos Dumont. I took it from his head so he could buy Porto Maravilha, where we can have a casino like what he did in Singapore, where 5% is the casino, and it has an exhibition center, a convention center, a 50 meter tall two-towers hotel, and an upstairs pool. He told me that he makes more money in Singapore than all Las Vegas casinos. It's crazy to invest. His commitment: investing US$ 10 billion and generating 50,000 jobs. We will have a great venture here,” he told the newspaper.

Asked by Agência Pública about gambling being a sin for some churches, the bishop and mayor added: "Whoever thinks it is sin should not play." Agência Pública requested an interview with the Mayor, but until the close of this report had no return.

As the report found, the LVS project was also embraced by Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel (PSC). Before announcing investment in the Marvelous City, however, the group tried to negotiate first with the unsuccessful São Paulo state governor, João Doria (PSDB). LVS was interested in the Anhembi Complex, according to a source who accompanied the negotiations.

The LVS Lobby in Brazil

It is not from today that Adelson is lobbying to legalize casinos in Brazil. The president of the Joint Parliamentary Front in Tourism Defense, Federal Deputy Herculano Passos (MDB-SP), told Agência Pública that he was invited to lunch with Sheldon Adelson in Brasilia on two occasions, in 2016 and 2017. “In addition to me, attended others parliamentarians and representatives of the executive branch,” he added. According to him, the businessman said the LVS group is interested in opening three integrated leisure complexes with casinos in the country.

As stated by Agência Pública, the Lowenthal Advogados law firm represents the interests of LVS in the country and works with the National Congress and the federal government to release the resort-integrated casino model in the country.

In 2017 and 2018, LVS consultants Fabio Lowenthal of Lowenthal Advogados and Henry Lowenthal of GR8 Capital Consultoria Empresarial met at least four times with representatives of the federal government's first and second tier.

All of these meetings were recorded in the official agendas of the respective hosts. On October 4, 2017, they met with the then Deputy Secretary of Planning and Economic Affairs, Julio Alexandre Menezes da Silva. On November 28, 2017, they were with the then deputy chief of parliamentary affairs of the Presidency Secretariat of Government, Mariangela Fialek.

Already in 2018, on February 28, they met with the then Secretary of Fiscal, Energy and Lottery Monitoring of the Ministry of Economy, Mansueto Facundo de Almeida Júnior. The meeting was also attended by consultant Camila Barbosa, LVS Vice President of Government Relations, Andrew F. Abboud, and Getulio Vargas Foundation economist and professor Samuel Pessôa. As recorded in the agenda, the subject of the agenda was: “games in resort complexes.”

Already with the former Chairman of the Board of Control of Financial Activities (Coaf), Antonio Carlos Ferreira de Souza, this same team talked about “anti-money laundering mechanism in gambling activities”, on September 20, 2018 .

Agência Pública's report called Lowenthal Advogados several times, but could not speak to Fabio Lowenthal and, despite leaving a message, had no return. An email was also sent to the LVS consultant. The report failed to reach Henry Lowenthal or Camila Barbosa. Professor Samuel Pessôa declined to give an interview.

It was also requested an interview with Sheldon Adelson and sent a series of questions to the LVS office in Brazil. By note, they reported that “for some time now the LVS has been following discussions about legalizing gambling in Brazil, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate” and that “the LVS understands that Brazil is a great tourist destination with different natural beauty and the country has one of the largest untapped tourist potentials in the world.”

“LVS will be ready to invest in Brazil immediately as long as the legalization process and regulatory framework follow the high standards of other jurisdictions such as Singapore, Macau and Nevada, which have a limited and strictly regulated gaming environment. The discussions that have been taking place in Congress in recent years are very interesting for Brazil, as they can attract a large international investment for the construction of new tourist complexes spread all over Brazil. This process would increase the number of international tourists visiting the country, placing Brazil as a new destination for major international fairs and conventions (MICE segment). The result of these new investments in the tourism sector would be the creation of new jobs, increased income, new private international investments, increased tax revenue, increased tourist spending in Brazil, among others,” says the note.

In Congress, the "Sheldon Adelson Law"

The agenda on the legalization of casinos has heated up this year in the country after it began to pass in the House of Representatives Bill 530/2019, authored by federal deputy Paulo Azi (DEM-BA), which authorizes the “exploitation, throughout National Territory of gambling exclusively in casinos established in integrated resorts. ” It is exactly the business model led by Sheldon Adelson.

Resorts, according to the text, “are developments that consist of lodging facilities and a set of visitor entertainment facilities, services and products, such as convention centers, casinos, spas, restaurants, bars, shopping malls, art galleries, museums, theaters, music shows, golf courses, sports venues, theme parks and water parks. ”

In the text of the project, Paulo Azi justifies that the purpose of the proposal “starts from the premise that gambling already exists in Brazil but is mostly illegal and minority legalized through lotteries operated by the Union (Caixa Econômica)”. According to the project, the aim is not to create something new, "but to legalize, regulate and tax this majority, in order to bring to the formality an activity already underway, in addition to strengthening and boosting tourism in Brazil."

But as the bill matches both the interests and business profile of the LVS group the proposal was nicknamed the "Sheldon Adelson Act." In addition to restricting casino legalization within resorts, the bill restricts the number of licenses for each city: “One casino resort per state or in the Federal District, with a population of up to 15 million; two casino resorts per state or in the Federal District, with a population of 15 to 25 million; a maximum of three casino resorts per state or in the Federal District, with a population of over 25 million,” says the text.

One person following the group's negotiations in Brazil told Agência Pública that these were the two requirements of Sheldon Adelson: that legalization be restricted to the model of resort-integrated casinos and that the licensing number for each city be restricted.

Despite meeting with Sheldon Adelson on two occasions, Federal Representative Herculano Passos said that "at no time" he was "approached by the businessman, or anyone else, to present or intermediate presentation of project on casinos, despite defending the cause."

“I believe that, in the format that the main project is in, it perfectly suits the tourism sector and, as it has been widely debated and approved by the Special Committee, indicates that not only me, but the members of the Commission also believe in the economic potential of legalization of casinos in Brazil, ”he said.

Source: Alice Maciel - Agência Pública.