LAS VEGAS – Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has lost a defamation lawsuit against the National Jewish Democratic Council.
Adelson asked for $60 million in damages, arguing the council libeled him by saying his political contributions were sullied by links to prostitution.
On Monday, a federal judge in Manhattan found that the council's speech was protected. Adelson, whom Forbes ranks as the ninth-richest American, is chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a major Republican donor.
The lawsuit accused the council of "assassinating" Adelson's character by suggesting he personally approved of prostitution in resorts owned by Sands China Limited, a Las Vegas Sands subsidiary.
In the months before the 2012 presidential election, the council posted an article urging Republican candidates to refuse Adelson's money, saying his donations were "tainted" and pointed to claims that the CEO had "personally approved" a prostitution strategy for his casinos in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.
A fired former executive suing Sands for wrongful termination made allegations in a court filing that Adelson knew about prostitution at his casinos. That case is ongoing. Adelson denies wrongdoing.
The council argued its reports referencing mainstream press accounts were "wholly appropriate."
In his decision, U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken wrote that the larger context of the council's article and difficulty of proving or disproving their claim led him to conclude that "statements that Adelson's money is `dirty' or `tainted' constitute constitutionally protected opinion." He also ordered Adelson to pay the council's legal fees.
"It was a great day for the First Amendment," said Marc Stanley, chairman of the council. "I think it sends a message that no matter much money you have, you can't bully people into suppressing free speech."
L. Lin Wood, a lawyer for Adelson, said the decision denied his client the "basic right of trial by jury."
"The statement by the National Jewish Democratic Council at issue in this case remains a boldfaced lie," he said in a statement.
Adelson's legal team is expected to appeal the ruling.
"When you have unlimited money, you can do whatever you want to do," Stanley said.