Apollo skeletons not enough to derail Venetian licensing bid

By: - February 17, 2022 1:50 pm

Apollo Global Management Executive David Sambur testifying remotely to the Nevada Gaming Commission Thursday (Gaming Commission video screengrab)

Apollo Global Management, the company best known in Nevada for putting Caesars Entertainment into a 2015 bankruptcy and more recently, for the questionable behavior of its founder, Leon Black, received the blessing Thursday of the Nevada Gaming Commission to pay $2.25 billion to operate the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Expo Center. Real estate investment company Vici will purchase the property for $4 billion.

Black admits he paid convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein more than $165 million for financial advice.

Last year, Vanity Fair reported that Black, according to a source, is under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney for an alleged sexual assault at Epstein’s New York townhouse. No criminal charges have been filed.

Commissioner Ogonna Brown asked about reports of a criminal investigation.   

“I know the reports that you’re talking about. It was in a Nevada publication,” Brian Carney of AGM said. “We don’t necessarily know what’s going on with any prosecutor office, but I will tell you this – we’re not aware of any, not only of any criminals charges being filed – that is an unequivocal statement, we’re not aware of any criminal investigation of Mr. Black at any prosecutor’s office.” 

Commissioner Ben Kieckhefer attached a condition to the license that AGM “will immediately notify the Control board and the Gaming Commission should Leon Black nominate an individual or be nominated to the Apollo Global Management Board.”

“I see a distinction between someone that’s not him versus him,” said Commissioner Ogonna Brown. “I’m trying to understand the basis for (placing a condition on) someone’s nomination.”

“Well, I think that he’s posturing that he’s going to be hands off,” Kieckhefer said. “And if that changes, then I think we should be notified.”

Achieving Kieckhefer’s definition of ‘hands off’ may be a challenge for AGM, which is led by Marc Rowan, Black’s handpicked successor.  

An AGM executive told the Gaming Commission the company is unaware of any criminal investigation or charges against Black, who is being sued in civil court by Ganieva Guzel, a woman he paid $100,000 a month beginning in 2015 to keep quiet about their sexual relationship.   

“He has no powers, nor is he part of the executive committee,” AGM executive David Sambur said of Black, noting he holds 11.9% of AGM’s common stock. Sambur says Black’s stake in the company has been diluted as a result of AGM’s recent merger with Athene.

Brown asked whether AGM played a role in crafting Black’s NDA with Guzel. An executive said it did not.   

Earlier this month, the Nevada Gaming Control Board, led by chairman Brin Gibson, recommended approval for AGM. 

A state official who asked not to be identified told the Current that Gov. Steve Sisolak, at the request of AGM’s gaming attorney Frank Schreck, pressured Gibson to place the item on the Control Board agenda prematurely, before investigators were satisfied with AGM’s suitability.  

Schreck denies the allegation. Gibson and Sisolak have not responded to requests for comment.

Gibson, who worked for Schreck’s law firm when Sisolak appointed him to the Control Board in November 2020, did not abstain from the item. He has refused to say whether he obtained an advisory opinion from the state’s Ethics Commission.

Sambur, a longtime AGM executive who is best known for piloting the Caesars’ bankruptcy, will be the sole member of the subsidiary that will manage the LV Sands properties.

Sambur noted AGM has implemented changes in corporate governance following the “entire episode” involving Black, “…first and foremost being that Apollo changed its stock classification to go to a one share, one vote structure. Prior to this episode, I believe that three founders of the firm had additional voting rights beyond just their economic rights.”

“The second change is that now Apollo has a fully independent Board of Directors,” he said, adding the board has 18 members, “and insiders constitute a minority.” 

Sambur said the company intends to keep the Venetian’s staff in place and will focus on restoring convention business and entertainment options to four theaters that went dark during the pandemic. 

The company is also considering resuming work on the St. Regis condo tower that was mothballed in 2010 during the Great Recession.  

Four commissioners, Chairwoman Jennifer Togliatti, Kieckhefer, Brown, and Steve Cohen, voted to approve the license. Commissioner Rosa Solis-Rainey abstained because of her law firm’s business transactions with the parties. 

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.

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