Sands ready to buy a jet, hit the road

When Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson learnt that his company had hit the jackpot in the Singapore IR race, it wasn’t through his lieutenants.

The 72-year-old CEO of Sands had switched off his phone and gone to sleep when president William Weidner tried to break the good news to him at 2.15am last Friday.

„I left a message for him on the phone, but he didn’t listen to it. He switched on the TV and heard from CNBC,“ Mr Weidner told Today, after a press conference on his first visit here since Friday’s decision.

The buzz before the announcement had suggested that a rival that had tied up with a Temasek-linked company had clinched the deal.

„There were very persistent rumours that Harrah’s has won the bid. When I told Sheldon about it, he said, ‚If this is what it is, we have done our best.'“

So it took a while for the victory message to sink in.

„I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t sleep for two days,“ said Mr Weidner.

Now that the initial euphoria has subsided, it’s back to work for the Sands camp.

At yesterday’s press conference, sitting alongside local adviser City Developments Limited (CDL) chairman Kwek Leng Beng, Mr Weidner said: „We want to hit the ground running.“

His team has already met local officials on minor refinements to the design.

In the coming months, a group led by executive vice-president Brad Stone will map out the construction programme and decide which retailers to bring in.

The operator is also shopping for a private jet – just to bring its Sands Macau crew to do the groundwork here, quickly.

The 10-12 seater will add to its fleet of planes that currently carry high-rollers to its Macau and Las Vegas casinos.

Key executives such as Mr Adelson will also be shopping for homes here soon – good news to local developers like Mr Kwek.

Describing the Singapore win as being „more meaningful“ than its winning the Macau licence in 2004, which broke the 40-year monopoly of Mr Stanley Ho, Mr Weidner said: „I think we were lucky in Macau.“

But its first-mover advantage there gave it an edge over its rivals to win Singapore’s first casino licence.

Already, banks including Citigroup have offered up to USD 6 billion (SGD 9.4 billion) to fund the project — almost double its USD 3.6 billion bid.

A listing on the local bourse has been ruled out in the „short term“, as the operator promised the Singapore Government „entirely external financing“, he said.

Sands — which wants to break even five to eight years after it begins operations here in 2009 — will also hire 10,400 staff by opening day, out of which 75 per cent will be locals.

By 2010, it has estimated that the total economic impact of the Marina Bay Sands will amount to about 1 per cent of Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The company will also not shy away from expanding its Asian presence, when the opportunity arises, said Mr Weidner.

„When we began our development in Macau, we didn’t know Singapore would open,“ he said, alluding to potential markets in Thailand and Japan.

Don’t be surprised too if familiar names pop up in the Sands IR.

Cirque Du Soleil — first proposed by rival MGM – is still interested in coming here, said Mr Weidner. But Sands would consider whether short-haul travellers would prefer new shows to permanent ones such as Cirque.

Although Sands will operate the hotel and retail components of the IR on its own, it doesn’t rule out working with local partners — even ex-rivals.

„Just because we were once competitors in the contest don’t mean we cannot work together in the future,“ said Mr Weidner.