On Tuesday, January 11th, news broke that 87-year-old serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson passed away. In February of 2019, Adelson had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After an almost two-year battle with this blood cancer, he succumbed to the complications connected to his medical treatment in his Malibu, California home.
At the time of his death, Forbes listed him as the 19th richest person in the US with an estimated net worth of around $29 billion. He leaves behind five children from two marriages.
Born to Jewish immigrants, Adelson’s life was a true story of rags-to-riches. He claimed that he was so poor that he couldn’t even afford rags. He grew up in Dorchester, a poor neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, where his mother operated a knitting store and his father drove a cab. At the age of 12, he showed a propensity for business as he began selling newspapers thanks to a $200 license loan from his uncle. Before joining the army at 21, he operated a candy-vending-machine and attended trade school to become a court reporter.
As onlineunitedstatescasinos.com reported, during his 70-year entrepreneurial career, he launched over 50 businesses but is best known for those in the gambling industry. He became a millionaire in his 30s when he started a charter tour company and is famous for equating companies to busses, stating – “There is no end to both. They just keep coming.”
In his later years, his philanthropic work ran through the Adelson Foundation, a charitable organization founded by him and his second wife Miriam in 2007. The Foundation divides into two branches, the Adelson Family Foundation and the Adelson Medical Research Foundation. The latter focused on researching potential treatments for neurological disorders, cancers, and other diseases. Adelson had a firm anti-drug stance, fueled by losing his son Mitchell to a drug overdose in 2005 (from a first marriage). He aggressively fought against drug addiction and marijuana legalization, challenging its US regulation on several occasions.
Sheldon and Las Vegas
As mentioned, despite his success in several industries, Adelson is often referred to as a casino magnate. In Las Vegas, many local business people credit him for transforming the desert city from a gaming-centric regional location into the leading US exhibition and convention center.
His Vegas casino journey began in 1988, when he attained control of the Sands Hotel and Casino from financier Kirk Kerkorian for $110 million, via the Interface Group. The goal of the venture was to have an exhibition center in Vegas for his COMDEX trade show. COMDEX, which stands for Computer Dealers Exposition, was a computer expo trade show, one of the largest in any industry, that began in 1979. In 1995, Adelson sold it off to the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group, and it perished in 2003.
One year after purchasing the Sands Hotel and Casino, Adelson and his partners opened the 1.1-million-square-foot Sands Expo and Convention Center, which, at the time, was the second-largest convention center in the world. The following year, while honeymooning in Venice with Miriam, Adelson came up with the idea to build a mega-resort on Vegas Strip. In 1996, he officially announced plans for this endeavor, razing the Sands Hotel and Casino, making way for the Venetian Las Vegas, a $1.5 billion complex, which opened on May 1999. Currently, The Venetian ranks as the second-largest hotel in the world, and its sister venue, The Venetian Macao, is the second-largest casino in the world. In 2019 Adelson stated that he believes that The Venetian launched a new era of integrated resort development.
In 2004, Las Vegas Sands Corporation began foundation work on the $1.6 billion Palazzo complex on the South Las Vegas Boulevard. That same year, the Las Vegas Sands Inc. went public and became Las Vegas Sands Corporation. At the time of Adelson’s death, he was Chairman & CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which has over 51,000 employees, and the total value of its assets hover around $23 billion.
Following his Las Vegas success, Adelson decided to branch off and expand in other territories. Some publications named him – The Man That Brought Casinos to China, on account of the Last Vegas Sands Corporation opening the first-ever Vegas-style casino in China, the Sands Macao, in May of 2004. Three years later, the Sands opened the Venetian Macao, a $2.4 billion complex on Macau’s Cotai Strip. His casino investments also included venues in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Marina Bay, Singapore.
In 2015, through his LLC, News + Media Capital Group, Adelson purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. At first, details regarding this takeover were murky, and the Adelson family identity remained concealed before the newspaper had to reveal its new owner. Many analysts called the selling price of $140 million an overpayment, a power-play to further Adelson’s political addenda in endorsing Donald Trump’s presidential bid.
Involvement in Politics
Raised a Democrat, later on in life, Adelson became a Republican, stating that – “I didn’t leave the Democrats. They left me.”
Adelson is famous for his generous contributions to the Republican National Committee. Going by public records, in the past decade, Adelson and his wife Miriam have donated over $500 million to the super PACs and the Republican party. In the 2023 election cycle alone, the Adelson couple gave more than $200 million to Donald Trump’s campaign, making them by far his largest donors, which included anti-Biden campaigns.
However, Donald Trump is not the only Republican candidate that has received substantial support from the Adelson couple. Mitt Romney and other Republican nominees received over $92 million in the 2012 election cycle. Former President George W. Bush was also a recipient of Adelson donations.
Sheldon expressed his anti-marijuana stance in the 2016 election cycle by funding organizations in Arizona, Nevada, Florida, and Massachusetts to oppose the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana use. His donations totaling $9 million only helped stop such laws from getting passed in Arizona.
Later on in life, he also remained in firm opposition to online casinos and internet poker. Pouring money into campaigns of those who sought to overturn state legislation that allowed online gambling, which he called – “A toxic, trainwreck waiting to happen.”
Clinging to his Jewish heritage, Adelson also looked to wield his influence and financial power in Israel. He was a crucial backer of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and looked to push Israel’s priorities in Congress and at the White House through the Israeli-American Council. Immediately after his death, Netanyahu released a statement in which he said that – “Israel will forever remember Sheldon and his great contribution to our country and the Jewish people.”
Adelson owned the Israeli free daily newspaper Israel Hayom and the weekly Makor Rishon. Both of which many saw as mouth-pieces for Netanyahu’s policies. Over the years, the Adelson Family Foundation financed Jewish youth trips to Israel, through Birthright Israel, by contributions totaling over $140 million.
In 2023, Adelson bought the US ambassador’s official residence near Tel Aviv for $88 million. He did so to help prevent the embassy from relocating to Tel Aviv once Trump eventually exited office.
A World Without Adelson
Sheldon Adelson had a reputation of holding a tight grip on his casino empire, of which he remained chairman until four days before succumbing to treatments for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. According to former partners and industry insiders, he always made it clear who was in charge and never gave up control.
Following his passing, his wife Miriam now controls a bulk of the family shares via a series of trusts, which total around 57% of his companies’ stocks, or $24 billion. The casino mogul was known for utilizing a trust that let him transfer stocks over to his family without paying gift taxes. In some instances, she shares authority over these assets with Irwin Chafetz, Adelson’s longtime business associate.
Operations of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation now pass over to 65-year-old board member Robert G. Goldstein, who has been part of the corporation since 1995. He is the acting CEO and chairman of all Sands operations in the US and China.
Patrick Dumont, a 46-year-old chief financial officer who has been with the corporation for five years, should be Goldstein’s successor when the latter decides to step down. Many consider Dumont one of the best CFOs in the industry. However, according to Thomas Allen, Executive Director at Morgan Stanley, it wouldn’t be a surprise if, over time, one of the Adelson family members takes over the top role.
Dan Wasiolek, a Morningstar analyst, doesn’t expect much to change in the wake of the icon’s death, not expecting any changes regarding its focus on its shareholder’s return of capital investment-grade status or high return development requirements.