Sheldon Adelson, the US casino magnate and prominent Republican donor and philanthropist, has passed away after a long illness, his wife announced on Tuesday. He was 87.
Adelson was the billionaire founder of Las Vegas Sands and is credited with transforming the cities of Las Vegas and Macau into gaming and resort destinations. He leveraged his vast wealth to exert social and political influence on causes from Jewish affairs to combating opioid addiction, bought regional newspapers in Nevada and Israel and befriended world leaders around the globe.
Most recently, Adelson was a close confidant of US president Donald Trump and wielded power behind the scenes, including successfully urging Mr Trump to push for the relocation of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Last week, Adelson took medical leave from his role as chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands for treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Tributes to Adelson from politicians and public figures credited him as an “American patriot”, including former US president George W Bush.
“Sheldon battled his way out of a tough Boston neighbourhood to build a successful enterprise that loyally employed tens of thousands — and entertained millions” Mr Bush said of Adelson, whom he called a friend.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, said he was heartbroken at the passing of his most generous political patron, whom he affectionately called “the Red-head”.
“Sheldon was one of the greatest contributors in history to the Jewish people, Zionism, settlements and the State of Israel,” the five-time prime minister said.
“The world has lost a great man,” Mr Trump said in a statement on Adelson’s passing on Tuesday, adding that “his ingenuity, genius, and creativity earned him immense wealth, but his character and philanthropic generosity his great name”.
Born in Boston to Lithuanian immigrants, Adelson went from selling newspapers to travelling the world in his own fleet of Boeing 747s. He earned his first millions creating the Comdex computer trade show in the 1970s, which led to his acquisition of the Venetian casino in Las Vegas. He ultimately expanded his casino and resort empire to Macau and Singapore.
Adelson’s wealth, last estimated at $35bn by Forbes, enabled him to become a political kingmaker and a generous philanthropist. He gave freely to organisations including the Birthright Israel programme and shared the use of his jets with injured US veterans and their families for all-inclusive vacations at his resorts.
Adelson and his wife Miriam were among the deepest-pocketed and most reliable donors to Republican political candidates in recent years. As the single-largest Republican donor in the 2012 election cycle, Adelson’s endorsement of Mr Trump for president early in the 2016 campaign helped accelerate the New York businessman’s route to the White House.
The couple maintained their position in the upper echelon of Republican donors through subsequent elections, including the 2018 midterms. The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions, ranked the Adelsons as the largest individual donors of the 2020 election cycle, giving almost $220m — all of it to Republicans.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican US Senate majority leader, credited Adelson for creating “countless” jobs as he “climbed from sleeping on tenement floors during the Great Depression as a young boy to literally towering over Las Vegas and beyond.”
Harry Reid, the Democratic former Senate majority leader from Nevada, said “few people have had such significant an impact on the hotel and gaming industry and on Nevada’s economy as Sheldon Adelson”.
Adelson’s death comes at an uncertain moment for Republican party fundraisers. The assault on the Capitol last week after Mr Trump and scores of Republicans in Congress encouraged the baseless idea that the election had been “stolen” has prompted dozens of corporate donors to suspend or review their campaign contributions.
It also comes at a delicate time for Mr Netanyahu, who faces an ongoing corruption trial. Since 2007, Adelson funded a free daily newspaper, Israel Hayom (Israel Today), which backs rightwing causes in general and Mr Netanyahu in particular.
One of the cases for which Mr Netanyahu is being prosecuted hinges on whether the prime minister offered to boost a rival publication with regulatory changes in order to get similar favourable coverage. Mr Netanyahu denies the charges.
Adelson helped support Ariel University, built on a settlement deep inside the occupied West Bank, and was a guest of honour at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem in 2019. At the ceremony, American and Israeli dignitaries made a beeline for him and his wife, who is now expected to take over his pro-Israel philanthropy.In her statement announcing his death, Dr Adelson said her husband of 32 years “went beyond bettering the lives of individuals: he crafted the course of nations”.