As with many companies, the history of Las Vegas Sands Corp. begins with the vision of its founding chairman and CEO: Sheldon G. Adelson.
Adelson got his major start in the trade show business. As early as the 1970s, he saw the potential in personal computers. He and his partners founded the computer trade show COMDEX in 1979.
Ten years after founding COMDEX, Adelson and his partners bought the famous Sands Hotel in 1989. A year later, they opened the Sands Expo and Convention Center across from the hotel–a center now covering over 2.25 million square feet of show floor and meeting space.
While developing the Sands properties, Adelson sold COMDEX in 1995 for more than $800 million.
The money was needed. The Sands Hotel was having grave trouble competing with the newer resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. Something had to be done to make the hotel competitive, or it would perish. But what?
Inspiration struck while Adelson was on his honeymoon in Venice, Italy, with his wife Miriam.
"We thought Venice was a very unique city," Miriam told a reporter. "It's romantic and historical; you walk through the streets and you feel that there were so many generations who walked those very streets before you. It's a very special city. I told him [Sheldon Adelson], 'if you can bring the romantic atmosphere of Venice with all the luxuries that can only be found in Las Vegas, then it can be a winner.'"
In 1996, Adelson imploded the Sands Hotel to make room for The Venetian. Construction began in 1997 and it was completed on May 3, 1999, amid a flutter of white doves, sounding trumpets, and singing gondoliers.
The themed resort was a smashing success. In the words of Fortune magazine, The Venetian "fueled the overall renaissance of Las Vegas itself."
The secret of the resort's success? Adelson had focused his hotel efforts on courting the convention and tradeshow industry. At the time, when other hotels were focusing on gambling, his approach was unorthodox, even mocked.
The traditional strategy was to keep hotel rooms minimal, so as to encourage guests to spend as much time as possible in the casino. Adelson, however, had all his hotel rooms made into luxury suites: he put in mini-bars and big screen televisions and gorgeous furniture, and he offered comfortable work spaces in every room.
By offering such amenities, he counted on business from the Sands Expo and Convention Center to keep mid-week occupancy strong. This proved correct, with the company now making more money in Las Vegas from conventions than gambling. And Adelson's convention-centered approach is no longer unorthodox, but rather the paradigm in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas.
Adelson was also among the first to foresee the financial potential of Asia. Before his American competitors, he made the move to locate his company nearer to the Asian market. Macao, the former Portuguese colony turned over to China in late 1999, is the only place on mainland China where casino gambling is legal. Las Vegas Sands opened the Sands Macao in 2004.
Also in 2004, Adelson took the Venetian's parent company public.
When the trend in Las Vegas shifted away from themed hotels, construction on The Palazzo Las Vegas began in 2005. Upon completion, the resort displaced the Pentagon as the largest building in the United States in terms of floor space. All together, The Palazzo and The Venetian and Sands Expo make up the world's largest integrated resort, with 7,100 all-suite rooms, 2.25 million square feet of convention and exhibition space, and an array of shopping, dining and entertainment.
Adelson then offered a bolder vision for Macao. He saw that one billion people are within a three-hour flight of Macao, and around three billion people are estimated to live within a five-hour flight. He realized that his company's future was in creating not one hotel, but establishing an entire strip—a kind of "Las Vegas Boulevard" in Macao, featuring many hotels of various styles and price ranges.
But the idea seemed impossible. Again, "those-in-the-know" mocked Adelson's idea. And perhaps understandably. There were profound physical challenges to his idea: the total area of the small peninsula and two islands that make up Macao is less than 12 square miles; this area is densely populated; and, at the time, there was no land for such a large strip.
So how did Adelson overcome these challenges? He created the land.
His company spearheaded the effort to fill the bay between the Coloane and Taipa islands. Adelson called the area the Cotai Strip.
He then began construction of the largest inhabited building in the world—the Venetian Macao. To ensure the structure was stable, 13,500 steel piles were driven into the bedrock below. At peak times, 15,000 people were working on the construction site. Adelson set a three-year time limit for construction. This meant building needed to take place at a rapid pace, but the building was finished on time.
The hotel officially opened at 7:18 p.m. on August 28, 2007, a time that was believed to have good feng shui.
The resort is twice the size of its Las Vegas counterpart, making it large enough to hold ninety Boeing 747 jumbo jets. The facility has an arena that will seat 15,000 people and one of the largest exhibition centers in Asia. The resort receives between 70,000 and 100,000 visitors each day and has a staff of approximately 12,000 on site. The 550,000-square-foot casino is also the largest in the world. An incredible achievement.
But neither Adelson nor the rest of our company was done. In 2008, next to The Venetian Macao, we opened The Plaza Macao, now featuring The Four Seasons Hotel, The Paiza Mansions, and The Plaza Casino.
Despite its successes, Las Vegas Sands hit hard times in 2008 during the global financial crisis. At one point the company was losing $1,000 per second. The stock price fell 97 percent within a 52-week period. To stop the bleeding, Adelson loaned the company $1 billion of his own money.
Undaunted, he continued with plans to build. The Sands Casino Resort opened in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on May 22, 2009. It has since become instrumental in helping Pennsylvania replace New Jersey as the gaming center of the Eastern United States.
Even bolder was Adelson's decision to go forward with a $5.6 billion resort—Marina Bay Sands—in Singapore. Given the financial difficulties the company was facing, there was skepticism about his decision to develop the Marina Bay Sands.
However, Adelson argued that, with only one other competitor in Singapore, opening the resort would prove profitable. He was right. After it opened at the end of April, 2010, it posted a $600 million operating profit in the first eight months of business, a record in the industry.
The Marina Bay Sands has three 55-story sloping towers with approximately 2,600 rooms and suites. The most striking feature of the hotel is the Sands SkyPark, a park that is set on top of the three towers. It has lush vegetation, an observation deck, several restaurants, and an infinity swimming pool that seems to flow over the building.
The resort's prime location right next to the city center allows it to serve as an entertainment site for the local population and also a destination for business travelers and MICE (Meetings, Incentive, Convention, Exhibition) events.
In addition, the company built the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. Designed as a symbolic gesture of welcome to guests from across the globe, the lotus-inspired museum has become the premier destination in Singapore for major international touring exhibitions from the most renowned collections in the world.
A year after Marina Bay Sands opened, tourism to Singapore shot up 20% and the economy expanded by 15%.
With such a successful history, the company is feeling more optimistic than ever. Its latest resort is Sands Cotai Central, which opened in April of 2012 in Macao. This property—a massive three-tower resort—joins its sister Cotai properties to form an unprecedented fully integrated resort city, offering a diverse mix of accommodation, entertainment, dining, retail, gaming and MICE events.
A little known fact is that Sands China Ltd—our subsidiary company—is the single largest investor in China. With Sands Cotai Central, we now bring three celebrated hotel brands to the Cotai Strip: Conrad, Sheraton and Holiday Inn. With a pedestrian sky bridge connecting our properties on each side of the Cotai Strip, the company has taken the integrated resort concept to new levels. On what once was water, we've raised a tourist paradise. It is no exaggeration to say that Sands Cotai Central is the biggest tourism project currently on earth.
Always looking for new expansion opportunities, Sheldon Adelson and our company continue to challenge the status quo of the hospitality industry. We are currently keeping an eye on the potential for new resorts in countries such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, India–and Madrid, Spain. Stay tuned for more developments!