U.S. President Donald Trump has asked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to "strongly consider" granting a license to build a casino in Japan for an American company run by a top Trump donor, a U.S. media outlet reported Wednesday.
Trump raised Sheldon Adelson's casino bid with his company, Las Vegas Sands, in a meeting with Abe in February 2017 at the president's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, ProPublica said, citing two people briefed on the meeting.
Trump's push surprised Abe's entourage and the prime minister "didn't really respond, and said thank you for the information," one of the sources said, according to ProPublica, known for producing investigative journalism, in an article titled, "Trump's Patron-in-Chief."
The president raising a top donor's personal business interests directly with a foreign leader would violate long-standing norms, the article said.
Separately, Adelson raised the casino issue in a breakfast between Abe and a small group of American business executives in February 2017 in Washington, it said.
When asked about the Mar-a-Lago meeting, Abe told the Japanese parliament in July this year that Trump did not press on requests from casino companies but did not deny the topic came up.
In July, the Diet passed a bill authorizing casinos in Japan. The law allows the establishment of casinos in up to three locations as part of "integrated resorts," including hotels, shopping areas and entertainment facilities.
According to the article, Adelson, on a recent earnings call, cited unnamed insiders as saying Sands' efforts to win a place in the Japanese market will pay off.
"The estimates by people who know, say they know, whom we believe they know, say that we're in the No. 1 pole position," he was quoted as saying.
At least 13 companies, including giants such as MGM and Genting, are vying for a license.
"Even though Sands is already a strong contender because of its size and its successful resort in Singapore, some observers in Japan believe Adelson's relationship with Trump has helped move Las Vegas Sands closer to the multibillion-dollar prize," the story said.
"Japan is considered the next big market. Sheldon looks at it that way," a former Sands official was quoted as saying.
Adelson envisions building a $10 billion "integrated resort," which in industry parlance refers to a large complex featuring a casino with hotels, entertainment venues, restaurants and shopping malls, according to the article.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam, were among Trump's biggest benefactors, writing checks for $20 million in the 2016 presidential campaign and pitching in an additional $5 million for the inaugural festivities the following year.