Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands founder and billionaire gaming magnate, dies at 87 Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports · January 12, 2021 at 4:11 pm Sheldon Adelson, who rose from modest upbringings in a suburban Boston neighborhood to become a self-made billionaire, gaming industry titan on two continents, a fervent supporter of Israel, and a politically connected Republican Party financial backer and influencer, died Tuesday at the age of 87. Las Vegas Sands Corp., the casino giant that he founded, announced Adelson’s passing in a statement. “Our founder and visionary leader, Sheldon G. Adelson, passed away last night at the age of 87 from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” the company said. “His achievements in the integrated resort and hospitality industry are well-documented. While his business credentials – having started or been involved in more than 50 different enterprises – are unquestioned, his dedication to philanthropy and commitment to his family will truly be his legacy. He will be missed by people from all parts of the world who were touched by his generosity, kindness, intellect, and wonderful sense of humor.” Sheldon and Miriam Adelson Adelson’s net worth was estimated by Forbes Magazine at $35.9 billion, 19th on the Forbes 400. He was founder, chairman, and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, the company named for the iconic Sands Casino in Las Vegas. Adelson and several business partners acquired the Rat Pack-era Las Vegas Strip casino for $110 million in 1989. He grew Las Vegas Sands into a multi-billion-dollar casino corporation that currently owns integrated resort properties and convention facilities on the Las Vegas Strip, Macau, and Singapore with a market capitalization of almost $45 billion. At the time of Adelson’s death his family, through several trusts, controlled roughly 58% of Las Vegas Sands. On January 7, the company announced Adelson was taking a medical leave of absence after resuming treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was first treated for the form of blood cancer in March 2019. Adelson spent roughly a year away from the company but did not give up his executive positions. Las Vegas Sands President Rob Goldstein, 65, has been serving as acting chairman and CEO. Goldstein, who has been with the company since 1995, holds the same positions for Sands China, the company’s subsidiary that oversees its holdings in Macau. Sheldon Adelson and Miriam Adelson at President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. Adelson’s son-in-law, Las Vegas Sands Chief Financial Officer Patrick Dumont, increased his public persona in the company’s leadership over the past few years. Adelson is survived by his wife, Miriam, an Israeli-born doctor who specializes in treating substance abuse. It was the second marriage for both Adelsons. Dumont is married to Sivan Ochshorn, Miriam Adelson’s daughter from her first marriage. Adelson had three children from his first marriage and two sons with Miriam. In a statement provided to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the newspaper the family has owned since December 2015, Miriam Adelson said, “It is with unbearable pain that I announce the death of my husband, Sheldon G. Adelson, of complications from a long illness. To me — as to his children, grandchildren, and his legions of friends and admirers, employees and colleagues — he is utterly irreplaceable.” In a statement, the company said the Adelson family asked for privacy. A funeral will be held in Israel, the birthplace of Miriam Adelson, with plans for a memorial service held in Las Vegas to be announced at a later date. Over the last two decades, Adelson suffered from lumbar plexopathy, which causes severe pain in his side and hip area that was first diagnosed in 2001. He began using a cane to help walk, eventually utilizing a motorized scooter. During his gaming career, Adelson became one of the casino industry’s most high-profile executives, mainly because he was an outsider when he entered the gaming world and often exposed divergent views. Adelson was often described as pugnacious and confrontational with an unwavering and firm belief in his views and opinions. He opposed the expansion of internet gaming, vowing “to spend millions” to kill legalization of the activity while most of his competitors invested in online opportunities. Adelson brought the U.S. gaming industry to Macau when others were skeptical of the emerging Asian market. His off-and-on relationship with deposed casino executive Steve Wynn often made headlines and he openly feuded with other gaming industry leaders. Adelson’s views outside of gaming made headlines and sometimes had consequences. Las Vegas Chairman Sheldon Adelson During a talk at Yeshiva University in New York in 2013, Adelson suggested the U.S. explode a nuclear weapon in the middle of the Iranian desert as a warning sign. A spokesman later said Adelson “was using hyperbole to make a point.” Months later, Las Vegas Sands was the victim of a cyberattack that wiped out three-quarters of the company’s Vegas-based servers and cost an estimated $40 million in equipment repairs and data recovery. U.S. authorities blamed Iran for the attack. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have long opposed the legalization of marijuana in the U.S., for both recreational and medical purposes. They often spent millions in efforts in opposition to cannabis legalization ballot initiatives. Some of the opposition was attributed to the drug overdose death of his son, Mitchell. Adelson, through campaign contributions and political connections, had the ear of at least two Republican U.S. presidents – George W. Bush and Donald Trump. During a 2006 interview at his spacious office inside the Venetian, a reporter counted at least five photos of Adelson and Bush, along with their wives, in various settings, including the president’s ranch in Texas. He gave millions of dollars in donations to GOP super PACs and other conservative political action committees, adding up to $113 million in 2016 and $172.7 million in 2020. After the Adelson’s contributed some $123 million to GOP causes in 2018, Miriam Adelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Trump. The Adelsons had prominent seats at President Trump’s 2017 inauguration. Through his marriage to Miriam Adelson, Sheldon Adelson became a strong supporter of Israel. The move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the Trump Administration in 2017 came after heavy lobbying by the Adelsons. In December, when former intelligence officer Jonathan Pollard, who spent 30 years in prison for spying on the U.S. for Israel, flew to Jerusalem on a Boeing 737 owned by Las Vegas Sands. In Las Vegas, the Adelsons donated $25 million to build the Adelson Educational Campus, the only pre-kindergarten-through-grade 12 Jewish community school in Nevada. The Adelsons also donated $140 million to fund Birthright Israel, which finances trips to Israel for young Americans. Casino mogul on two continents Sheldon Adelson became one of the gaming industry’s most polarizing figures for his stances that often contrasted with the consensus opinion of the rest of the gaming community. He often backed those positions financially. He first became associated with Las Vegas in the 1980s through his ownership of Interface Group, producers of the Computer Dealers Expo (COMDEX). He held the show at the MGM Grand starting in 1979 but the growth of the computer industry helped the show expand. It was eventually moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center. COMDEX would lease space from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for 5 cents per square foot and Adelson would re-lease the space to COMDEX participants for up to $25 per square foot. By 1987, COMDEX was Las Vegas’s largest annual trade show. However, Adelson and Interface got into disputes with the LVCVA when hotel-casinos began increasing room rates on COMDEX attendees, often complaining the participants ate cheaply and never gambled. The dispute led Adelson to a decision to build his own convention space, acquiring the Sands and its surrounding property. He opened the 1.7 million-square-foot Sands Expo and Convention Center in 1990. In 1995, he sold COMDEX to a Japanese firm for $860 million, with a personal share of over $500 million. The Sands Hotel Casino was demolished in 1997 and replaced with the $1.5 billion Venetian Resort Casino, which opened in 1999. Adelson long said he was inspired to build a hotel-casino themed after Venice, Italy, where he honeymooned with Miriam Adelson following their marriage in 1991. In 2007, Las Vegas Sands opened the $1.8 billion Palazzo adjacent to the Venetian, giving Las Vegas Sands a complex covering 63 acres that includes 7,000 hotel rooms, more than 200,000 square feet of casino space, 1 million square feet of retail, along with the convention facilities. Las Vegas Sands also owns 19 acres east of the Strip where Madison Square Garden is building the $1.7 billion MSG Sphere, an entertainment complex. Adelson is credited with creating the term integrated resort, in which the property includes hotels, casinos, retail, dining, entertainment, and convention facilities. He brought that concept to Pennsylvania in 2009 with the $800 million Sands Bethlehem on the site of the historic Bethlehem Steel Mill. The company sold the property in 2019 for $1.3 billion to an Alabama-based Indian tribe. Lately, Las Vegas Sands has linked to potential integrated resort opportunities in Georgia, New York City, and Texas. In October, the company confirmed it was in preliminary talks with an advisor that could lead to a sale of its Las Vegas Strip gaming and convention operations in a deal valued at $6 billion. Adelson was one of the earliest supporters of China’s efforts to change the gaming enclave of Macau from a monopoly controlled by the late Hong Kong businessman Stanley Ho into a destination resort. Las Vegas Sands was the first American casino company to open a resort in Macau which, prior to the pandemic, was the world’s largest in terms of monthly and annual gaming revenue. The company built and opened the Sands Macau in 2004. Then, Adelson set his sights on the Cotai Strip, an area of reclaimed land between the islands of Coloane and Taipa, which was part of Macau’s efforts to expand the region’s territory. But Adelson wasn’t so sure when he first saw the site. “It’s very nice, very picturesque. But it’s under-water. They’ve relegated me to the boonies,” Adelson said in a 2007 interview. But he viewed the area as Macau’s potential version of the Las Vegas Strip. He said in 2007 the $2.4 billion he spent to construct Venetian Macau would be recouped within three to five years. The company now has five properties in the Chinese gaming enclave, four on Cotai including Venetian Macau, Plaza Macau, The Parisian and the Londoner, a $2.2 billion remodel of the Sand Cotai Central. Pre-pandemic, the Sands Macau holdings accounted for more than 60% of the casino operator’s quarterly revenues. In 2006, Las Vegas Sands won one of two integrated resort licenses for the island nation of Singapore and constructed the $6.88 billion Marina Bay Sands, which opened in 2010. The company is currently investing some $3 billion in an effort to expand the hotel offerings and other non-gaming aspects of the resort. Courtroom and the media During his gaming career, Adelson seemed to be in the courtroom as much as the board room. He battled lawsuits involving contractors who built the Venetian, members of his own private security detail, and journalists with whom he feuded over news coverage. Adelson settled three different lawsuits involving his Macau casino operations, costing himself and the company a combined $217 million. In 2009, Las Vegas Sands paid three men $42.5 million to settle a lawsuit over their assistance in the company’s Macau licensing efforts. The settlement was initially undisclosed, but Las Vegas Sands revealed the amount during a quarterly earnings release, saying the figure contributed to its net loss. In May 2016, Las Vegas Sands settled a six-year-long lawsuit filed by Steven Jacobs, a former top executive of its Macau operations, for an undisclosed amount. In its second-quarter earnings release, the company said it had a $78.885 million “nonrecurring corporate expense” related to “nonrecurring legal costs.” In March 2019, Las Vegas Sands settled a case with Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen regarding the amount of help he gave the company in Macau in the early 2000s. Twice the lawsuit was heard by a Clark County jury and Adelson and Sands was twice ordered to pay judgments – $43 million in 2008 and $70 million in 2013. Twice the Nevada Supreme Court remanded the case back to the District Court. Two days into the middle of the third trial, Las Vegas announced it reached an undisclosed settlement with Suen. Two months later, the company reported a nonrecurring legal settlement of $96 million. The Adelsons own a newspaper in Israel – Israel Hayom – and in December 2015, secretly purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada’s largest newspaper, for $140 million. The reporting staff of the newspaper uncovered the Adelsons as the owners and they were forced to admit the acquisition. Early life Sheldon Gary Adelson was born in the poor Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, on Aug. 4, 1933. His father drove a taxicab and sold advertisements and his mother ran a small knitting store. Adelson start started selling newspapers at a young age and had a candy vending business by the time he was 16. In the early 1950s, he entered City College of New York, majoring in corporate finance, but dropped out after less than two years and started working as a court stenographer. He joined the U.S. Army and after being discharged, started his business career. By his own account, he created more than 50 different businesses with varying levels of success. He invested in various companies, including a travel and tour business that was profitable until a decline in the stock market in the late 1960s. In the 1970s he bought a company that published magazines, which included a computer magazine. He and his partners created COMDEX, beginning in 1979, which became the premier computer trade publication throughout the 1970s and 1980s. As brands such as IBM, Apple and Microsoft began their rapid growth, COMDEX displayed the products to consumers and to other companies. By 1987, COMDEX had grossed $20 million and become the largest trade show in Las Vegas. By the end of the decade, the Interface Group had reached a net income of $250 million and expanded COMDEX shows into other countries. Adelson and his first wife, Sandra, married in the 1970s. They adopted three children and divorced in 1988. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.