Sheldon Adelson: A self-made billionaire whose place in gaming history is assured By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports January 12, 2021 at 8:45 pm The last time I interviewed Sheldon Adelson, he was more interested in talking about a meal he’d recently been served in Israel than the multimillion-dollar judgment he was contesting in front of the Nevada Supreme Court a few days later. The “wonderful lunch of chicken and falafel” was obviously more satisfying to the billionaire than the $96 million he and Las Vegas Sands ended up having to pay Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen two years later to settle a lawsuit that would ultimately span 16 years in Nevada’s court system. Of course, Adelson said during that January 2016 interview, “I don’t settle cases in which I am right.” Over the years, Adelson seemed as comfortable in the courtroom as he was in the Las Vegas Sands boardroom. He just wasn’t comfortable around journalists who wouldn’t nod in agreement with his every word. In fact, he sued several journalists, among them Kate O’Keefe of the Wall Street Journal, the late Jeff Simpson, and my longtime friend and Las Vegas Review-Journal colleague John L. Smith. All three cases were dismissed in some fashion. Las Vegas Chairman Sheldon Adelson discusses his properties in Macau Adelson’s passing late Monday night at age 87 from complications due to the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma brought back memories of the few times I interviewed the founder, chairman, and CEO of Las Vegas Sands. I didn’t have many opportunities to meet with Adelson. I had a much better rapport with – and got better stories from – his top lieutenants, especially Michael Leven, who served as Sands President from 2009 to 2016. Every Adelson interview, by contrast, always seemed to have some controversy attached. There is no debate or controversy, however, about Adelson’s place in gaming industry history, where his vision and innovation turned him into a self-made billionaire who ranked No. 19 on the Forbes 400 with a net worth of $35.1 billion at the time of his death. Adelson’s “integrated resorts” term and concept transformed the gaming industry. He developed properties on two continents, in the process of creating iconic destinations like the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, which helped to reconfigure the island nation’s landscape. I first met Adelson in 1989, during my initial stint with the Review-Journal. Adelson and his partners, as Las Vegas Sands, Inc., had then recently bought the Rat Pack-era Sands Hotel Casino on the Las Vegas Strip from Kirk Kerkorian for $110 million. The new owners easily won approval from Nevada’s gaming regulators, but the Gaming Control Board denied a license to Henri Lewin, Adelson’s controversial choice as the property’s president. Adelson told the Nevada Gaming Commission that, without Lewin, the deal was off. The commissioners acquiesced and reversed the Control Board on a 5-0 vote. Adelson would fire Lewin nine months later. “Sheldon Adelson went against the grain when he bought the Sands in 1988,” said UNLV historian David G. Schwartz. “The majority of casino owners tolerated conventions but viewed them as distractions to the real purpose of a casino resort: making money from gambling. Imploding the Sands to build a new ground-up resort – the Venetian – made sense.” “The Venetian wasn’t the first mega-resort on the Strip,” Schwartz said, “but it was one of the most successful, in no small part due to Adelson’s willingness to go his own way, whether it was by focusing on conventions or not having a casino buffet.” Early in my second go-round with the Review-Journal, I interviewed Adelson in his spacious Venetian offices about his plans for Macau’s Cotai Strip. But he spent part of the interview going over the coverage he’d received from other Review-Journal reporters. During the first Richard Suen trial in 2007, Ken Ritter of the Associated Press and I cornered him briefly outside the courtroom to ask a few questions about the day’s testimony. He told us we shouldn’t be covering the case and that instead, we should “be in New York covering the Pope’s visit” to the U.S. He was prickly toward the media, yes, but a different Adelson persona was often presented to the public. In 2014, I watched him speak to nearly 1,000 University of Nevada, Las Vegas hospitality students and offer some insight into his business philosophy. “Risk is reward, and reward is risk,” Adelson said during an hour-long afternoon talk. “You cannot be an entrepreneur if you don’t take risks. If you fall down, be determined to get back up and keep trying.” He also talked that day about the millions he’d donated to medical research. In 2006, he and his wife created the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation, which has funded hundreds of millions of dollars in groundbreaking research on treatments for cancer, neurological disorders, and other diseases. “I hope that will be my legacy,” Adelson told the UNLV students in 2014. “Leaving some understanding that helps human beings.” Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.