Sheldon Adelson, casino magnate, 1933-2021


Before transforming the horizons of Las Vegas and Macao or becoming a decisive donor to American presidents and Israeli prime ministers, Sheldon adelson estimated he had done 50 different jobs.

Born in 1933, he was 12 when he borrowed $ 200 from his uncle to buy the right to sell newspapers in the busiest corners of Boston. At 16, he was selling candy vending machines. After two years in the United States Army, he became a court reporter, supplied soap to hotels, and sold sprays to defrost car windshields.

It was not until the age of 32 and as a mortgage broker that Adelson, who died Monday 87 years old, made his first million dollars. He came close to bankruptcy soon after, having invested money borrowed on the stock market before the crash of 1969.

Within two years, however, he had rebounded, buying a bankrupt publishing company that owned a magazine specializing in the computer industry.

Adelson realized that the fledgling industry did not have a trade show led him to launch the Computer Dealers Exposition in 1979. The first Comdex only brought 4000 people to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, but the personal computer revolution transformed the industry and by 1995 it drew crowds of 200,000 people.

That year, he and his partners sold Comdex for $ 800 million to Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank, giving Adelson the funds to embark on the adventure that made him a billionaire.

He had bought the Las Vegas Sands from financier Kirk Kerkorian in 1989. His main interest was to build the largest convention center in the country on the site. Sin City, he realized, could attract conference attendees in costume Monday through Friday to supplement the players who flocked to the weekend. But an old Rat Pack lair wasn’t a sufficient draw, so he demolished the 17-story building in 1996.

In its place, he built the Venetian, a $ 1.8 billion resort with a replica of the Bridge of Sighs, gondoliers singing to tourists as they propelled along its desert canals, and a fax machine in every room. .

This made him a pioneer of the integrated resort model that now dominates the Las Vegas Strip. His success convinced Macau authorities to grant him a lucrative gambling license when Stanley Ho’s gambling monopoly in the former Portuguese colony ended in 2002.

A story of organized crime hung over Las Vegas and Macau, but Adelson demanded “some moral behavior” from employees, said Mike Leven, former president of Las Vegas Sands. “The gaming industry has horrible times, but Sheldon had principles. He was against prostitution and things like that.

His attraction to casinos was underpinned by the belief in their profitability when associated with conventions. And when Adelson had a strong conviction, Mr. Leven said, “he never strayed from it.”

Sheldon Adelson endorsed Donald Trump in 2016 and was a strong supporter of Israel © REUTERS

Over the past 20 years, he has invested more and more money behind two beliefs that have come to define his public identity: the American Republican Party and Israel.

The son of a Lithuanian Jewish taxi driver and Welsh seamstress, Adelson grew up sharing a bedroom with his immigrant parents and three siblings.

Republicans hadn’t even bothered to campaign in their poor Boston neighborhood, but as Adelson’s wealth grew and he fought with culinary workers seeking to unionize at the Venetian’s, his politics has tilted to the right.

It wasn’t “because I didn’t want to pay taxes or because of some other conservative caricature,” he wrote in 2012. It was that the Democrats did not appreciate entrepreneurs and had hosted ” a visceral anti-Israel movement ”.

Adelson backed up his rhetoric with his estimated fortune of $ 35 billion. Along with his second wife Miriam, he contributed $ 82 million to Republicans in 2016 and a record $ 218 million in 2020.

The money earned him the friendship of presidents from George W Bush to Donald Trump, which he endorsed in 2016 as “a CEO achievement that exemplifies the American spirit of determination, commitment to the cause, and management. Business”.

Adelson’s Venetian in Las Vegas, filled with gondolas and canals, has become a model of the integrated resorts that now dominate the city © Bloomberg

Adelson’s influence has been such that Barack Obama once called him to try to persuade Republicans of a battle of budget sequestration, Leven said. Adelson agreed to help, telling the then president, “I’m a Republican, but I’m American first.

His gifts also made him extremely influential in American policy towards Israel. Adelson strongly opposed a two-state solution and guaranteed visits to Israel for dozens of American politicians. He also funded a newspaper that strongly supported Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s right-wing prime minister.

Adelson’s Zionist father had died before he made it to Israel, so he wore his father’s shoes on his first visit.

Adelson attributed his philanthropy to his father who kept change for those who had more than them. Colleagues noted that when the Covid-19 pandemic closed casino floors, Adelson maintained full staff salaries.

A litigation manager, he has already been sued by two sons for a family action transaction. The judge concluded that Adelson “while perhaps lacking in fatherly kindness and indeed cordiality in general, did not mislead, cheat or defraud [the] complainants ”.

Mr Leven said he was a controversial and ‘larger than life’ figure that some found it difficult to work for. “If he wanted to do something his particular way, you probably couldn’t convince him to do it any other way.”

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