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Sheldon Adelson, founder of Las Vegas Sands, dies at 87
SHELDON Adelson, who built the largest casino company in the world and used his wealth to support Republican candidates and groups, has died. He was 87.
Mr Adelson died on Monday night from complications related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Las Vegas Sands Corp said in a statement on Tuesday. Mr Adelson took a leave of absence earlier this month to continue treatment for the disease.
Mr Adelson made his first fortune in trade shows, founding what would become the computer industry's largest event, Comdex, and selling it to Japan's SoftBank Group Corp for about US$800 million in 1995. He ploughed the profits into casinos, first in Las Vegas and then in Asia where he helped turn the former Portuguese colony of Macau into the world's biggest gambling market.
Mr Adelson's wealth was derived mostly from his majority stake in Las Vegas Sands, which he founded. The company, with revenue of US$13.7 billion in 2019, operates a convention centre and casinos in Las Vegas along with gambling resorts in Macau and an integrated resort at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Mr Adelson, who was chairman and chief executive officer, controlled more than half of the company's shares.
His net worth was about US$33 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The company confirmed in 2020 that Mr Adelson was considering selling his Las Vegas properties if the price he could get for them was high enough. The coronavirus pandemic caused a steep drop in business at casinos all over the world, but especially in China. Mr Adelson told investors, however, that he was committed to investing billions of dollars overseas.
In 1989, Mr Adelson and his partners bought the former Rat Pack hangout, the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, with an eye toward building a convention centre to host Comdex.
A decade later, he demolished the Sands and opened the US$1.5 billion Venetian hotel on the site, inspired by a honeymoon to Italy that Adelson took with his second wife, the former Miriam Ochshorn.
At the time Mr Adelson developed the Venetian, most casinos tried to get guests out of their rooms so they would gamble more. Mr Adelson instead designed large suites at the hotel with business-friendly amenities such as fax machines, specifically catering to conventioneers.
"They always derided, they always demonised our convention strategy," he said, according to a 2008 New Yorker profile. "And look who is laughing last."
Entering Macau was Mr Adelson's most successful wager. Following the 1999 handover of the former colony to China, Mr Adelson won the rights to build the Sands Macao, the city's first Las Vegas-style casino. After the 2004 opening, he recouped his construction cost in a matter of months. He wound up with five casinos there.
Later, Mr Adelson used his wealth to become a conservative force in US politics and staunch advocate of Israel. As a counter to political giving by fellow billionaire George Soros, he funnelled almost US$30 million to favoured candidates in the 2008 US elections and spent US$100 million backing Republican hopefuls during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Mr Adelson stayed out of the contentious 2016 Republican primaries but spent US$20 million late in the race backing the campaign of Donald Trump. Overall, Mr Adelson and his wife contributed US$218 million to Republican candidates and groups in 2020, including more than US$90 million to groups backing Mr Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making them the largest individual political donors in the US.
When the Trump administration announced that it supported relocating the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a proposal vehemently opposed by Palestinians, Mr Adelson offered to personally underwrite the cost of the move.
Once a Democrat, Mr Adelson became a Republican even though he claimed he was liberal on some social issues. In 2012, he wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled "I Didn't Leave the Democrats. They Left Me." His split came from disagreements over foreign policy such as the level of US support for Israel, the cost of government welfare programmes and corporate tax policies.
An opponent of an independent Palestine, he helped finance Israeli and Jewish causes. Mr Adelson started Israel HaYom, a Hebrew language conservative daily that became the country's largest newspaper by circulation. He later bought two other newspapers. He also campaigned heavily against online betting, on moral grounds.
Sheldon Gary Adelson was born on Aug 4, 1933, in the Dorchester neighbourhood of Boston, where he started life in a one-room tenement. His Lithuanian-born father drove a cab, and his mother, who came from Ukraine, managed a knitting shop.
He sold newspapers on Boston street corners at age 12, dropped out of school and became a court reporter for the US Army. In his early days as an entrepreneur, he made a living with candy vending machines and selling toiletry kits to motels.
Mr Adelson's charitable contributions included hundreds of millions for medical research. His philanthropic giving surpassed his political contributions.
In 2015 Mr Adelson purchased his hometown newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, for US$140 million, a move made in secret that prompted the exodus of editorial staff worried about conflicts of interest covering one of the city's most prominent businessmen.
Mr Adelson and his first wife, Sandra, divorced in 1988, after adopting three children: Mitchell, Gary and Shelley. Mitchell Adelson died in 2005. BLOOMBERG