Sheldon Adelson Pitches $8 Billion Casino for Rio de Janeiro

Monday, May 8th, 2017 | Written by April Bergman

Sheldon Adelson visited with new Brazilian President Michel Temer to pitch an $8 billion casino development. If Adelson gets his way, he’ll build the world’s most expensive integrated casino in Rio de Janeiro.

For that to happen, President Temer and the Brazilian national legislature will have to pass a casino gambling bill into law. Brazil, with the largest population and largest economy in Latin America, banned casino gambling 70 years ago.

Three of the Las Vegas Strip’s four casino giants have expressed interest in a Rio casino recently, along with Portuguese and Austrian gaming companies. With so many billion-dollar operators interested in Rio casino developments, analysts in the gaming world are starting to predict that Brazil will legalize casino gambling in the near future, in order to create jobs, spur tourism, and drive revenues.

Such speculation has swirled in recent years, but the opportunity and the will on the part of business and political leaders seems to be better aligned than in the last few years.

Brazil to Legalize Land-Based Casinos?

Adelson’s visit to Brazil restarted rumors that the government would legalize casinos. That was the talk two years ago, when investigations into ousted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff began to gain momentum. The probes and protests of the Rousseff Administration derailed any momentum the casino bill might have gained in 2015 and 2016.

While visiting Rio, Adelson called Brazil a “potentially very good opportunity” for brick-and-mortar gambling. Not only does Brazil have the 5th-largest population (208 million) and 9th-largest economy in the world ($1.77 trillion nominal GDP), but Rio de Janeiro is also one of the Top 10 most-visited cities by tourists in the Western Hemisphere each year. Few cities with an emerging casino market — and thus no competition — offers such a lucrative combination of economic factors.

Games Magazine recently suggested that Rio de Janeiro could become the third leading casino destination in the world, surpassing Singapore. The magazine said, “The approval of a consistent law could make Brazil the third best market for the group, after Las Vegas and Macau.

Rio de Janeiro: Potential Casino Revenue

Saying that Brazil would generate more gaming revenue than Singapore might be optimistic. It is unknown if Games Magazine was factoring in the fact Japan passed a casino bill late last year, which would add Tokyo, Yokohama, and Ozaka to the equation. Whatever the case, Sheldon Adelson believes a Rio casino might be worth an $8 billion investment.

That same Games Magazine article described Sheldon Adelson, the world’s richest casino mogul, in glowing terms. Games Magazine described the CEO of Las Vegas Sand Corp as “visionary…Adelson wants to be one of the first entrepreneurs to conquer the country’s gaming market and also bring his casino brand.

Sheldon Adelson’s Rio-Based Philanthropy

On his trip to Brazil, Sheldson Adelson met with the mayor of Rio, Marcelo Crivella, to discuss Adelson’s longtime philanthrophic work in the city. The O Globo newspaper reported that a Wednesday meeting with Mayor Crivella also included the Israeli ambassador to Brazil, Yossi Shelley, as well as the head of Israel’s honorary consulate in Rio de Janeiro, Osias Wurman.

On the agenda for the meeting was a discussion of the Taglit Birthright Project. O Globo said of Adelson, “He is known to be the biggest individual sponsor of the Taglit Birthright project and showed interested in knowing how many youths from Rio and from across Brazil go to Israel on the project every year.

5 Other Gaming Companies Interested

Sheldon Adelson is not the only top gaming executive who is betting on Brazil passing casino legislation. O Globo reported that the CEOs of 5 other major internation casino companies have met with national officials from Brazil and local officials from Rio recently. Two of Las Vegas Sands’ major US rivals — Jim Murren of MGM Resorts International and Jan Jones (EVP of Communications and Government Relations) of Caesars Entertainment — also visited Rio recently.

So did the chief executives Portugal’s Estoril del Sol and Austria’s Casinos Austria corporation. The final company mentioned was Red Rock Enterprises (formerly known as Station Casinos). Red Rock Enterprises owns or co-owns 22 private and tribal casinos in the United States. Red Rock is owned by the Fertitta Brothers, best known as the owners of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) from 2001 to 2016. The Fertitta Brothers presumably would know many local officials, given the fact so many UFC fight cards have taken place in Brazil over the years.