Billions made Adelsons political VIPs

February 19, 2021
Sheldon Adelson and Dr Miriam Adelson (center) at the April 2012 opening of Sands Cotai Central with then Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on (left) and then Las Vegas Sands president and COO Michael Leven.

My retrospective on Las Vegas Sands founder Sheldon Adelson, who died last month, has been published in the February issue of Inside Asian Gaming. It’s accompanied by a look at how Adelson and his wife, born Miriam Farbstein in Tel Aviv in 1945, used their billions to change the course of politics in Israel and the United States. Dr Miriam Adelson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018 from Donald Trump for her work combating substance abuse and support for Jewish causes, after the couple gave more than $100 million to support Trump and his agenda.

As forecast here, new chairman and CEO Rob Goldstein announced on the company’s earnings call on January 27 that LVS is exploring online gaming.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Larry King signs off

January 24, 2021

When I attended grad school at Stanford, Larry King became a big part of my life. Then we became colleagues, sort of.

During the baseball season, one of Bay Areas teams was usually at home and the other was usually playing in a different time zone. With luck, from 4.30 in the afternoon to 11pm there’d be baseball on the radio. Then there’d be Larry King’s overnight show on the Mutual Broadcasting System for as long as I stayed up.

King was my nighttime companion, as he was for millions. My second year of grad school, my pal Ken joined the party – he was already a King fan; I never dared ask why – and the show was part of the soundtrack that began our four decades of friendship. King wasn’t brilliant, but for his interview subjects and his listeners, he was a comfortable fit.

As a kid in Brooklyn, King grew up with baseball legend Sand Koufax. King told a riotous story about driving with Koufax and couple of other friends as high schoolers on a cold night to find a cheap ice cream at a New Haven outlet of the Carvel chain. The story was on tape and King would replay it every couple of months. A few years later, as a baseball writer I was at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida, and ran into Koufax, then a spring training instructor for the Dodgers. I asked him if King’s Carvel story was true. Koufax shrugged and replied, “What do you think?’ with just the hint of a smile.

When I worked as a news writer and producer in CNN’s Washington bureau, in the hour ahead of shooting Larry King Live, King and his suspenders would regularly drift into the newsroom and try to act like one of the guys. For King it seemed easier talking to movie stars and word leaders than to us working stiffs, even though he was doing double shifts those days, the TV show followed by the radio overnights. I saw him dozens of times but I never asked King about the Carvel story.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Biden begins: Make America Great Again for all

January 19, 2021

Joe Biden’s inaugural address should appeal for unity, speaking to the decency that remains at America’s core even after four years of purposeful polarization and disinformation. Biden using four words from his predecessor may get more people to listen.

Former US diplomat Muhammad Cohen a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Sheldon Adelson death may move LVS online

January 13, 2021
LVS founder Sheldon Adelson brought Paris, Venice and London to Macau, the world’s most admired urban integrated resort to Singapore and conventions to Las Vegas.

The passing of Las Vegas Sands founder and megabillionaire Sheldon Adelson is expected to have little impact on the casino industry leader’s business. Sands President and COO Rob Goldstein will be the successor, at least for now.

A 25 year LVS veteran who successfully ran the company during Adelson’s 2019 cancer treatment and took the reins again last week when Adelson went on medical leave, Goldstein has the trust of Adelson’s widow, LVS controlling shareholder Dr Miriam Adelson, and of Wall Street. Sands CFO Patrick Dumont, married to Dr Adelson’s daughter, looms as a potential favorite son-in-law candidate for leadership, but the Israeli-born physician and her offspring are believed more focused on their native country’s politics than boardroom intrigue. Of course, new circumstances may change that and more.

Adelson spoke out forcefully against online gambling, citing the difficulties of policing it and highlighting its potential to undermine the billions invested in integrated resorts, as online shopping has done to department stores and shopping malls. Adelson’s passing increases the likelihood that LVS will join the casino industry’s march toward online play.

Staunch opposition to drug abuse – one of Adelson’s sons died of a drug overdose and Dr Adelson’s research centers on drug addiction – likely means that LVS will continue to hold out against marijuana use in casinos, regardless of any eventual industry consensus, as long as the Adelson family controls the company.

Adelson’s wealth made him one of the largest and most important political donors in the US and Israel. Adelson and I had our disagreements, but he did far more good than most of the politicians he bankrolled, a largely odious lineup that includes Benjamin Netanyahu, Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Democrats must stand for something real

December 2, 2020

As Joe Biden prepares for the presidency in a divided country, Democrats must decide what they stand for, instead of letting Republicans define them. And anyone who ever worked on a Hillary Clinton campaign must be banned from politics and media, except Japanese game shows that humiliate contestants.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Galaxy’s Francis Lui tops Asia Gaming 50

November 29, 2020

For the second straight year, Galaxy Entertainment Group Vice Chairman Francis Lui tops the Asian Gaming Power 50 list, compiled annually by Inside Asian Gaming magazine. As highlighted in this Forbes Asia profile of Lui, Galaxy has become Macau’s de facto local flag carrier in the gaming industry.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Felix Unger Day odd couple: China and Covid-19

November 13, 2020

Happy Felix Unger Day, November 13. This year’s odd couple is China and Covid-19.

The Middle Kingdom took the first hit from the virus and gave it to the rest of the world. While China has largely recovered – if you believe its numbers – its strategic and economic rivals continue to suffer from the pandemic.

Covid-19 has also made it easier for Beijing to exert its will on Hong Kong, imposing a draconian yet undefined national security law to quell dissent, effecting ending Deng Xiaoping’s “one country-two systems” formula for reunification. The virus provided a pretext to cancel elections, after pro-democracy candidates won 86% of seats in November last year, and then expel “ineligible” lawmakers sitting in the expanded session.

We can’t know whether security measures that promise long jail terms or the pandemic have quelled massive street demonstrations, but we do know who’s won, at least so far. Happy FU Day, Hong Kong, from the big motherland.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

How Steven Cohen can make the Mets winners

November 9, 2020

Dear Cousin Steven,

Mazel tov on your purchase of the New York Mets. For Met fans, it’s only fair that a hedge fund billionaire has rescued our team from Fred Wilpon, the schlepper whose investments with Bernie Madoff forced a decade of austerity. We believe you want what we all want: a consistent winner worthy of Met fans, with an ethos worthy of New York.

Maybe Aunt Sylvia never told you about me. Like you, I grew up rooting for the Mets, and we were both 13 when they won their first championship in 1969. (Sorry you weren’t invited to my bar mitzvah.) Unlike you, I didn’t make billions managing money. Instead, after attending the same high school as Omar Minaya, I began covering baseball in the 1980s. Over the decades, I’ve worked with and picked the brains of some of the game’s top players, managers, executives and statistical analysts.

Since you’re a multi-billionaire, everybody expects you to spend big on free agents to improve the team. History shows, trying to build a championship is rarely a winning strategy.

Players become free agents after completing at least six years in the major leagues. At that stage of their careers, usually pushing 30, most free agents are unlikely to match or exceed their pre-free agency peak productivity. We’ve seen notable exceptions in New York, including Dave Winfield, Carlos Beltran and (with help from performance enhancing drugs) Alex Rodriquez, the latter two reaching free agency before age 28.

With any first time free agent, you’re paying for their top performance, and you’re unlikely to see it repeated. You’re more likely to receive diminishing returns, particularly over the course of a long term contract.

Albert Pujols was the best hitter in baseball when signed his 10 year free agent contract with the Angels, a deal that he began at age 32 in 2012. Pujols has steadily ascended the all-time leader lists, passing Willie Mays in home runs and A-Rod in RBIs in 2020. But Pujols has been a below average hitter for the past four seasons at cost of $110 million – his paycheck and pedigree blocking the Angels from replacing him with someone better – and has one more year left at $30 million. The Angels have reached the postseason just once during Pujols’ tenure.

The other history making hitter of that generation, Miguel Cabrera, signed an eight year, $240 million contract after his age 32 season in 2015 and has logged only one outstanding season since. The Detroit Tigers still owe Cabrera $94 million for the next three seasons.

This off-season’s premier free agent, catcher JT Realmuto, will almost certainly get a long term contract. But he turns 30 in March and plays the most demanding position in baseball. Mets Hall of Famer catchers Gary Carter and Mike Piazza had their last outstanding seasons at age 32 and 33 respectively. Any commitment to Realmuto beyond three seasons carries high risk, including potentially blocking a more able replacement, such as Mets prospect Francisco Alvarez, who turns 19 on November 19.

Realmuto happens to be the best catcher in baseball right now, and catcher is a key need for the Mets. But too often free agents don’t fit your team’s top need or aren’t good enough to make a difference.

Many of baseball’s best players don’t become free agents in their primes because teams give them long term contracts. Last year, the Mets signed Jacob deGrom to a contract that extends through his presumed prime years before he could become a free agent. The Angels did the same with centerfielder Mike Trout, the Rockies did it with third baseman Nolan Arenado, the Dodgers did it with rightfielder Mookie Betts after the Red Sox failed to sign Betts and traded him to Los Angeles.

Too often, teams get seduced by availability and overpay for a good, but not great, free agent that won’t make a significant difference. Houston Astros centerfielder George Springer, a free agent this winter, is a good hitter – very good in the postseason – and middling fielder at a key defensive position, and he turned 31 in September. As a free agent, Springer will get a top tier contract for mid-range skills likely to deteriorate over the term of his deal.

The lure of availability also can induce teams to cast free agents in unsuitable roles. The Boston Red Sox pursued star infielder Hanley Ramirez to play a different position, leftfield, particularly challenging in quirky Fenway Park with its 37 foot high wall. The Red Sox committed $88 million over four years to an experiment that, in year one, yielded Ramirez’s career worst offensive season along with predictably shaky defense. Ramirez didn’t play outfield during the rest of his Boston tenure and was released in June of his fourth contract year.

Free agency works best when you identify special situations where the market improperly evaluates a player. As a 29 year old free agent after the 2018 season with an all-star resume as a Colorado Rockie, second baseman DJ LeMahieu faced doubts about replicating his sky high performance beyond the thin air of Denver. Signed at a relative discount, LeMahieu defied skeptics with two career best batting seasons for the Yankees. Note, it wasn’t the discount that made the signing a success, it was LeMahieu’s outstanding performance. To paraphrase renowned baseball fan Warren Buffett, a great player at a good price is better than a good player at a great price.

With Covid-19 reducing 2020 revenue by forcing a truncated schedule without spectators and no certainty about fans returning to stadiums in 2021, this off-season promises many special situations. Teams are not offering contracts to many players with two-plus years of major league service, releasing them to avoid the arbitration process that usually raises salaries regardless of performance. Many teams are reducing budgets, jettisoning potentially costly players and shunning premium free agents.

More available players and limited competition mean unprecedented temptation to flex your checkbook muscle. But under any free agent market conditions, the same guidelines apply: avoid buying unproductive years; focus on need, not availability; and seek special situations.

Consider a team we both know well, the 1986 Mets. The most important free agent contributor to that team was… Rafael Santana, a footnote to its success. Dwight Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman were homegrown. Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda, Jesse Orosco, Ray Knight, Tim Teufel and Howard Johnson were obtained in trades.

With trades, you’re not restricted to the sliver of often flawed talent available in free agency. Rather than trying to determine the best free agent third baseman, your baseball operations executives should determine the best third baseman, period, and work to acquire him.

As with free agency, trades require rigorous data analysis to identify needs, finding the right fits and recognizing special situations, such as distressed assets. Aunt Sylvia says you already know something about data analysis and trading.

Kol hakovod, and Let’s Go Mets!

Cousin Muhammad

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Bali Ubud festivals go virtual

October 28, 2020

With Covid-19 shutting down international travel, Bali’s annual Ubud Writers Festival and Ubud Food Festival have moved online. Kembali – “come back” in Indonesian – begins Thursday, October 29 and runs through November 8 with an all-star cast of Indonesian and international luminaries in each field and most disciplines in between. The festival preview call, featuring founder Janet DeNeefe and several speakers, gives a taste of what’s ahead.

Going virtual means that sessions with the likes of David Byrne, Jonathan Safran Foer, William Dalrymple, and preview call star Bandana Tewari will be available on demand for a month from their release time. So no matter where you are, the festival is on local time and can follow your schedule.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Macau casinos face long road to recovery

October 12, 2020

China’s national day holiday brought little joy to Macau. Despite eased travel restrictions, Macau faces a slow recovery from Covid-19, with gaming revenue barely reaching 15% of 2019 levels. An amorphous threat from Beijing to “blacklist” overseas casino destinations further clouds the regional gambling outlook.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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