MADRID — Sheldon G. Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate, on Friday abandoned his plans to build a $30 billion gambling and leisure resort on the outskirts of Madrid after failing to win financial concessions and other favors from the Spanish government.

The decision by Mr. Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, to drop its EuroVegas resort project is an economic blow not just for Madrid but for Spain as a whole. The country has been pining for foreign investment to help revive its economy and cut its 26 percent unemployment rate.

Although Spain recently emerged from a two-year recession, it remains mired in stagnation, deeply troubled by low consumer spending and a domestic credit squeeze that lingers from the country’s housing bust and the subsequent banking bailout in 2012.

But while Mr. Adelson was openly welcomed by the government, several Spanish civic and religious groups, opposed to gambling, sought to block the EuroVegas project. Some critics warned the authorities against bending Spanish legislation to suit Mr. Adelson, by granting him special tax benefits as well as accepting his request to exempt EuroVegas from a nationwide ban on smoking in public spaces.

Political opponents of the governing Popular Party also argued against granting Sands any tax concessions.

With an estimated net worth of $28.5 billion, the 80-year-old Mr. Adelson is one of the richest men in the world. The bulk of his wealth comes from the extravagant casino resorts he has developed in Las Vegas, the Venetian and the Palazzo; several built or redeveloped more recently in Macao, a former Portuguese colony that is now part of China; and one in Singapore.

Mr. Adelson, long a supporter of conservative causes, has been an active player in American politics. In the 2012 presidential election, he donated more than $60 million to his preferred candidates, first Newt Gingrich and then Mitt Romney, a sum that made him the single largest financial contributor in a presidential race.

In a statement on Friday, Sands said that it had dropped the Madrid project after an extensive review and that it would instead pursue alternative investment opportunities in Asia. It did not detail the review’s conclusions.

“Developing integrated resorts in Europe has been a vision of mine for years,” Mr. Adelson said in the statement, “but there is a time and place for everything, and right now our focus is on encouraging Asian countries, like Japan and Korea, to dramatically enhance their tourism offering through the development of integrated resorts there.”

Mr. Adelson’s investments, dependent as they are on securing regulatory approval from states and foreign governments, have frequently courted controversy. Earlier this year, Mr. Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, disclosed in a regulatory filing that it might have breached a federal law prohibiting bribery of foreign officials.

For some time now, Mr. Adelson’s business activities and investment plans in China have been closely scrutinized, including payments Sands made via a separate Chinese company. In 2010, his company was sued by a former employee who claimed he had been forced to impose improper pressure on Chinese government officials.

Macau, the gambling mecca in China, has become the main driver of Mr. Adelson’s wealth. Analysts say that overall gambling revenue in Macau was $38 billion last year — close to 90 percent of its economy — compared to about $6 billion in Las Vegas.

In Europe, casino gambling has been relatively limited; the Monte Carlo casinos in Monaco, the largest on the Continent, generate about $230 million in gambling revenue. Mr. Adelson, who announced his plans to bring a megaresort to the Continent in 2009, would have overwhelmed that.

While there were rumors from time to time that Mr. Adelson might be tempted if the Greek government were prepared to essentially let him take over an island in the Aegean, it appears that from the start he seriously considered only Spain for the immense project.

In September 2012, after a lengthy competition between Spain’s two largest cities, Sands chose Madrid for EuroVegas rather than Barcelona. At the time, Mr. Adelson’s choice was seen not only as a fillip for Madrid’s regional economy but also as a sign that foreign investors were ready to return to Spain. Underlining the importance of such a project for the country, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy met three times with Mr. Adelson to discuss his EuroVegas plans.

The project had already run into delays, as Sands originally planned to start construction of EuroVegas in mid-2013 and complete the complex within 10 years.

Mr. Adelson’s U-turn came after Mr. Rajoy’s government reviewed his request for the smoking exemption, as well as his financial demands. According to Spanish officials, those included an insistence that the government guarantee financial compensation for any changes in the country’s gambling laws that could hurt EuroVegas and grant EuroVegas a special rate on the gambling tax. Spain’s review also included discussions with the European Commission to determine whether making such concessions would violate European antitrust rules.

Sands proposed EuroVegas as a giant resort that would operate 12 hotels with a total of 36,000 rooms, six casinos with 18,000 slot machines, and three golf courses. But Sands remained evasive about how it would finance the project, saying last year that its own contribution would be 25 to 35 percent of the equity of EuroVegas and that it would look for “financing options from the capital markets” to cover the rest of the cost.

Politicians in opposition parties warned Mr. Rajoy and Madrid’s regional government, which is also in the hands of the conservative Popular Party, against providing any special fiscal or regulatory treatment for EuroVegas.

Tomás Gómez, the Socialist party’s regional leader in Madrid, said last year that even though EuroVegas would help his city, the Socialists would work to ensure that the law was the same for everybody.

Spain under the rule of Mr. Rajoy has taken aggressive steps in hard-hit Southern Europe to ease the path for foreign investors, especially in the automotive industry, where exports have played an important part in the country’s tepid economic recovery.


BOSTON — When Massachusetts finally gave in after decades of resistance and decided two years ago to legalize casino gambling, it seemed a relatively easy way to fill the state’s recession-battered coffers.

Some of the nation’s biggest casino operators, including Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts, rushed in to get a piece of this potentially lucrative market. Having already spent millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers to allow casinos, they then spent millions more selling themselves to voters, mainly by promising streams of revenue and thousands of jobs.

But a funny thing happened to the moguls on the way to staking their claims. Voters in several towns rejected them. While they did not object to casinos per se, they told pollsters, they did not want them in their own backyards.

Even Gov. Deval Patrick, who pushed through the casino legislation, acknowledged that he would vote against a casino if one were proposed for the town in the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts, where he owns a second home.As if voter rejection were not discouraging enough, the casinos also faced an unusually tough gatekeeper in the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which was charged with investigating them and will be selecting one casino for at least two of three regions in the state this spring. The winnowing produced daily twists and turns that transformed the process into a running soap opera. Investigators raised questions, for example, about Caesars’ suitability for a license. One involved a rather tenuous tie to an alleged Russian mobster. Still, Caesars withdrew, despite having spent $100 million here.

There were revelations about a possible conflict of interest involving the gambling commission chairman, who was subsequently sued by Caesars, which is looking to redeem itself. And the commission made some eyebrow-raising decisions, like allowing a casino proposal to move forward even though it had been defeated by one of the two towns it would straddle (the commission said the law was ambiguous).

Adding to the drama is Steve Wynn, of the Wynn Resorts gambling empire. He is already trying to change the long-set state law that says gamblers must pay a tax on any winnings over $600, an amount he says is so low it will discourage customers. At one commission hearing on his company’s practices, he fell asleep at the witness table.

Lawsuits are now flying, and a nascent statewide movement to repeal the 2011 casino legislation has picked up steam.

“Watching the way this is playing out, for those of us who opposed the casino legislation in the first place, just reinforces our concerns,” said Michael S. Dukakis, the former governor.

Gambling is not anathema to New England, despite the region’s Puritan roots. New Hampshire started the nation’s first state lottery in 1963. New England’s first casino, Foxwoods, opened in Connecticut in 1992; today it is one of the largest in the world.

It was the success of Foxwoods that helped inspire Massachusetts to consider casinos in the first place; so many residents were going to Connecticut to gamble that officials here decided to give them a reason to part with their money at home.

The casinos scouted locations and made lavish offers to their potential host communities to win support. Towns that were struggling financially tended to accept them. Wealthier towns spurned them, fearing that the quality of life would deteriorate because of increases in traffic and crime, the ripple effects of gambling addiction and the cannibalization of local businesses, especially mom-and-pop enterprises.

“The gambling industry is constantly looking for new markets, but it’s finding it very difficult to get into the markets they want to be in,” said Richard McGowan, who teaches business at Boston College and is an authority on gambling. “They want to be where the money is.”Scott Harshbarger, a former state attorney general and former president of Common Cause in Washington, is helping to lead the casino repeal movement. Anticasino activists have gathered enough signatures to get the measure on the November ballot, but a legal challenge must first be resolved.

“This is a mess, and it’s going to get worse, not better,” Mr. Harshbarger said of the process. He said the repeal movement was driven in part by a growing sense that statewide voters should have as much say as lawmakers when it comes to plopping down $1 billion casinos in New England’s town squares.

“If we’re going to make this kind of radical change in our culture and public policy, maybe the people ought to vote on this and not just the legislature, which is influenced by special interests,” he said.

The process has defenders. One is Stephen Crosby, the chairman of the gambling commission. He said in a brief interview that the law was working as intended, especially because it gave local control to towns so that casinos would end up only in places that wanted them.

“This is a controversial industry with a very sophisticated, nuanced law to try to make it as good as possible,” he said. “That gives lots of room for people to be knocked out of the box, and that’s happening.”

Mr. Crosby caused some controversy himself for revealing late in the game that he had a potential conflict of interest because of previous ties to a landowner who stood to gain millions of dollars if his site in Everett, near Boston, was selected for a casino. Although the state ethics commission cleared him, Mr. Crosby recused himself from voting on the land transaction; still, skeptics want him to recuse himself from all decisions involving a license in the Boston region. He said that he could be objective and that fair and reasonable people would see that he is.

By its Dec. 31 deadline, the commission received applications from just four casinos, about a third of the number originally anticipated. In western Massachusetts, only one operator, MGM Resorts, which has proposed an $800 million casino in Springfield, is up for a license; voters in two other towns said no.

In the southeast region, a license had been set aside for a Native American tribe, presumably the Mashpee Wampanoag, which has already won approval from voters in Taunton. But the tribe is awaiting a federal ruling on its land; meanwhile, KG Urban Enterprises has applied for the southeast license for a casino in New Bedford. No decision is expected for some time. (Separately, Governor Patrick has gone to court to stop another tribe from building a casino on Martha’s Vineyard.)

In the greater Boston region, where billions of dollars are at stake, only one application was complete. Wynn Resorts, which was spurned by the relatively affluent town of Foxborough, won approval from the town of Everett to build a $1.3 billion casino on chemically contaminated land on the waterfront.

A second application for the Boston region was filed by Mohegan Sun, the giant Connecticut casino operator, for a $1.3 billion resort casino at the fraying Suffolk Downs thoroughbred racetrack, which is partly in Revere. But the Mohegan/Suffolk proposal still needs to be approved by the town, which is scheduled to vote on Feb. 25 in what will be an intense campaign that is likely to motivate pro- and anti-casino forces from beyond its borders.

The proposal emerged at the 11th hour after a convoluted series of events, including Caesars’ abrupt withdrawal and a rejection by voters in East Boston, the other town that the track straddles. Casino opponents say the commission bent its rules to allow the proposal to move forward, in part to ensure some competition against Mr. Wynn in nearby Everett.

To sweeten the pot for Revere voters, Mohegan signed what may be the most lavish host community pact in the state. It includes an opening payment of up to $33 million plus $45 million in infrastructure improvements and, perhaps most enticing, preference for Revere residents for the project’s 2,500 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs. City officials in Revere are fully on board, calling the proposal a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a complete transformation.

Once the licenses are awarded this spring, each winning casino must pay the state $85 million in a nonrefundable license fee. Construction could begin by summer.

The potential for chaos exists, though, if statewide voters then decide in November to repeal the casino law. But the developers are not thinking about that now.

“I’m worried about a meteor hitting, too,” said Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs. “But there’s not much I can do about it.”

Correction: January 12, 2014
A credit for an illustration last Sunday with an article about problems in setting up casinos in Massachusetts, using information from a publicist, misstated part of the name of the company that supplied the rendering of a $1.3 billion casino proposed for Revere, Mass. It is KPF and Mohegan Sun Massachusetts (not KPM).


Singapore’s tourism receipts doubled to $18 billion within two years of opening the Marina Bay Sands and Sentosa casino resorts in 2010, and visitor arrivals jumped nearly 50 percent. Lured by Singapore’s success, the Taiwan Legislature could soon allow the opening of casinos. And Japan, with an official goal of tripling the number of foreign tourists in 20 years, is considering building casinos. Analysts believe that gambling in Japan could generate gross revenue of $15 billion annually.

But these countries should also pay attention to another aspect of Singapore’s experience apart from revenue. Singapore has gone to considerable lengths to shield some of its most vulnerable people from the negative social consequences of gambling. Promoters naturally emphasize the positives of gambling, mainly how casinos attract foreigners and their money. But they say little about the negatives: addiction, broken families and criminal activities like loan-sharking, all of which fall heavily on local communities and on low-income groups. To dampen these effects, Singapore levies an $80 casino entrance fee on local residents, while foreigners enter free. After a 2011 survey showed an increasing proportion of low-income gamblers playing with ever-larger sums, the state decided to prohibit entry by the unemployed, people on welfare and people who have filed for bankruptcy protection.

As South Korea’s experience shows, local residents generate lots of money. Of the country’s 17 licensed casinos, only one, Kangwon Land Resort, in a remote mountain area more than 100 miles from Seoul, is open to locals. But its revenue, about $1 billion annually, exceeds that of the other 16 foreigners-only casinos combined.

Casino investments under consideration in Taiwan and Japan could total several billion dollars. The promoters, of course, advertise gambling as a revenue-producing leisure activity. But if these investments go forward, both countries need to consider the downside and, at the very least, seek ways to curb addictive and self-destructive behavior.


MADRID — Even though Sheldon G. Adelson, the American billionaire casino magnate, abandoned his plans for a $30 billion casino and leisure resort on the outskirts of Madrid last month, he has nevertheless helped get the roulette wheels spinning here for the first time in almost a century.

In mid-December, Mr. Adelson dropped plans to build a resort with six casinos, known as EuroVegas, after the Spanish government refused to accept his demands for financial concessions. Just days later, however, two small casinos opened in central Madrid, operated by Spanish companies that applied for new licenses in the wake of the EuroVegas plan.

“The arrival of a giant like EuroVegas meant that we had to do something and couldn’t just stand still,” said Pedro Olmedo Franco, a director of the Casino Gran Madrid, one of Madrid’s two new casinos. Without the EuroVegas project, he added, “we probably wouldn’t be here now.”

Unlike some other Spanish cities, Madrid had a longstanding ban on any casino operating within an 18-mile radius of the city center. But it was effectively lifted when its authorities started to compete against Barcelona to lure Mr. Adelson, who had decided to locate his project in Spain. While negotiating with Mr. Adelson and under pressure from Spanish operators concerned about unfair competition from EuroVegas, Madrid decided to also grant two other licenses for smaller Spanish rivals to open casinos in the heart of the city.Before last month’s opening, Grupo Gran Madrid already owned three other casinos in Spain, with combined revenue of 28 million euros, or roughly $38 million. Madrid’s other new venue, Casino Gran Vía, is owned by Grupo Comar, which has several casinos across Spain and the Dominican Republic, which generated combined revenues of about €110 million last year.

The two new Madrid casinos differ in style, but required comparable investments — about €20 million for Gran Madrid and €15 million for Gran Vía.

Neither operator said it could provide earnings details so close to their opening. Mr. Olmedo Franco said Gran Madrid had made “a slightly weak start” during the Christmas season. On a recent evening there, several gambling tables stood empty.

In emailed answers to queries, Javier García, the general director of Grupo Comar, said he was “very satisfied” with the debut of Gran Vía, located at a century-old avenue. The casino has recently averaged 1,500 visitors a day, each paying an entrance fee of €9 and required to bet a minimum of €2.5. Mr. García forecast a profit for this year, without providing specifics. He also said the new casino was opened “independent” of EuroVegas and other business developments.

Despite Spain’s recent economic problems, the two casinos are filling a clear gap in Madrid, said Miguel Córdoba Bueno, a professor of applied mathematics who published a book last year about gambling. Mr. Adelson’s initial choice of Madrid, he contended, shows that it is “by some margin the most attractive city to set up a casino.”

Mr. Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands, decided to drop EuroVegas just as other foreign investors have started to return to Spain. They had exited two years ago, when the country was plunged into a banking crisis. Since then, the banking sector has received an international bailout and the economy emerged from a two-year recession in the third quarter of 2013.

Spain still faces considerable economic challenges, including a 26 percent unemployment rate. But the casino revival has also made a contribution to Madrid on the jobs front. Gran Vía created 270 new jobs while Gran Madrid created 200 jobs, in addition to relocating 250 existing staff members to Madrid. Some of the new employees had little or no previous work experience, let alone in the casino business.“Croupier is certainly not what I expected to become, but it’s proving an exciting opportunity,” said Valeria García, 21, who has been completing a history degree at Madrid’s Complutense University.

Ms. García oversees a roulette table for six hours an evening. Croupiers like her earn €1,500 a month to start, with pay rising to about €2,400 including tips. On average, the casino pays staff €1,600 a month.

“Given how things are in Spain now,” she said, “it’s unfortunately not with history that I was going to find a job.”

With Spanish consumption still in the doldrums, Madrid’s new casinos have been targeting foreign tourists, placing advertisements in the city’s main hotels. Last year, Spain welcomed a record 60.6 million tourists, even though the number of people visiting the Spanish capital fell about 5 percent to 4.2 million.

At Gran Vía, one of the rooms has an Oriental design to help attract Chinese tourists. Both venues have also teamed up with celebrated restaurant owners — Gran Vía with Jesús Santos, a specialist of Basque cuisine, and Gran Madrid with the Sandoval brothers, who own a Michelin-starred restaurant near Madrid.

While EuroVegas would have created thousands of jobs, it also generated criticism as a “Sin City” project, with opponents warning that by promoting gambling on such a large scale Spain might encourage criminal activities like prostitution and money laundering. The two Madrid newcomers have not drawn similar opposition, perhaps because they are minnows compared with the extravagant and giant casinos Mr. Adelson has sprawled across Las Vegas or Macau.

Mr. Adelson’s EuroVegas would have provided formidable competition for smaller Spanish operators. On the other hand, the Spanish companies anticipated that EuroVegas would help bolster the Spanish gambling sector as a whole and raise its international profile.

They also hoped to benefit from the same tax concessions that Mr. Adelson wanted to obtain for EuroVegas. Mr. Adelson scrapped his plans and turned his sights on opportunities in Asia after failing to win special tax benefits and an exemption from a nationwide ban on smoking in public spaces.

“We are now negotiating once more to get a better fiscal deal, but this time without the support of EuroVegas,” Mr. Olmedo Franco said.

The Madrid casinos want the authorities to cut the gambling tax to 20 percent from the current 45 percent. Ángel Ruiz de Apodaca, professor of administrative law at the University of Navarra, poured cold water on the casinos’ chances of winning major concessions.

“Mr. Adelson didn’t get the treatment that he wanted, so I don’t think that any special deal or fiscal advantages will be seen as acceptable for the new casinos either,” he said.

Both operators also face the risk that their downtown locations will hurt their existing casinos outside Madrid.

Eduardo Ladrón de Guevara, a Madrid fashion designer, said he would probably make regular visits to Gran Madrid rather than travel to the casino in Torrelodones, 29 kilometers outside Madrid. “This is a much more comfortable experience and you also don’t have to worry any longer about drinking and then finding a way to get home,” he said.


Just a year ago, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid was busy making it his mission to prove that Nevada Sen. Dean Heller was inept at the delicate art of culling votes for Internet poker legislation.

Now that there’s no Shelley Berkley candidacy to defend, though, Reid can’t stop singing praises for Heller’s prowess in reviving the online gaming debate.

“This was a very, very good hearing,” Reid said of a meeting Heller ran this morning in the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection.

“I helped him prepare for this,” Reid said.

But just because Reid and Heller are all smiles doesn’t mean online poker has a clear path through Congress.

While there is near-universal concern about the security of online gambling, not everyone believes that online poker should get a special carve-out if Congress tries to walk back the Obama administration’s 2011 interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act.

That interpretation, which validated online gaming within individual states, irrevocably changed the climate around Internet gambling — so much so that some online poker advocates, such as Rep. Joe Barton, have given up the fight.

Barton released a poker bill Tuesday that is silent on the question of the 1961 Wire Act.

That doesn’t sit well with Reid, who politely threw water on Barton’s idea in an interview with Nevada reporters Wednesday.

“I don’t want to denigrate anybody that’s trying to do something well,’ Reid said. “That’s not my approach, but at least it’s an approach.”

In draft Internet poker legislation Reid and Heller were trying to sell to their colleagues last Congress, they envisioned a full walk-back of the 1961 Wire Act to the point of declaring all transactions for online gambling illegal, save for those facilitating online poker games.


At the stroke of midnight Monday, a boycott of the poker room at Sheldon Adelson's Venetian began.

But virtually no change was visible Monday afternoon. Dozens of visitors crowded the tables.

The only sign of a boycott was online, where local poker pros took to blogs to rage over Adelson's aggressive campaign against online gambling. The disgruntled players appeared to be the only ones taking part in the five-day boycott.

"This isn’t a fight about profits," poker insider Nolan Dalla, who sparked the protest in a widely read blog post, wrote June 27. "It’s about making a statement. Let’s do whatever we can to create an empty poker room for five straight days."

While the Venetian's poker room was far from empty Monday, Dalla said the overwhelming response from the poker community made the boycott a personal victory in his mind.

“Frankly, I don’t think there is a metric to measure how effective the boycott will be,” Dalla said. "This was about awareness, and to that end, we have been successful.”

Ron Reese, spokesman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., declined to comment.

Dalla called for the boycott after Adelson described online gaming as “a societal train wreck waiting to happen” and launched a website urging lawmakers to vote against online gaming, which he argued “is not a good bet for the future of America.”

Dalla and other local poker pros contend that Adelson’s aversion to Internet gambling is counterproductive to Las Vegas and damaging to the industry.

“Las Vegas has the opportunity to be the New York City of online gambling,” said Frank Kasella, a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner from Tennessee who now lives in Las Vegas. “The way that city is successful financially, Las Vegas can be successful with online gambling.”

But for that to happen, gaming industry giants have to stand together to keep the city ahead of the competition, Kasella said. Adelson’s refusal to cooperate shows a lot about his character, he added.

A handful of poker pros vowed never to play at the Venetian again.

Shaun Deeb, a New York player with two final table appearances under his belt, said it has been frustrating to hear such a powerful man slinging negative opinions.

Adelson is "really attacking our growth as an industry," Deeb said.

Still, other players have been reluctant to follow Dalla’s lead.

Linda Johnson, who was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2011, disapproves of the boycott.

“I can’t go along,” she wrote on Dalla's blog. “Moreover, I don’t want to see any of the employees hurt who work at the Venetian.”

Dalla contends the boycott doesn't threaten the local work force.

“Some people have questioned the impact of this boycott on working people,” Dalla said. “I want those people to consider the position Sheldon Adelson has taken. It could cost Nevada the thousands of jobs online gambling could create.”

Even with a boycott, Kasella doubts Adelson will change his tune.

But supporters will send their message nevertheless.

“We’re here," Kasella said. "We’re important. Help us make the business the best it can be for everybody.