Las Vegas casino mogul and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson dead at 87


American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who built lavish gambling palaces that made him one of the world’s richest men and became a potent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has died at age 87.

Adelson, who headed the world’s largest casino company, Las Vegas Sands, died on Monday night from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Las Vegas Sands said in a statement on Tuesday.

“In Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore, Mr. Adelson’s vision for integrated resorts transformed the industry, changed the trajectory of the company he founded, and reimagined tourism in each of those markets,” the company said. “His impact on the industry will be everlasting.”

A combative self-made man raised in a poor Jewish immigrant family in Boston, Adelson established hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore.

Formidable figure

His wealth made him a formidable figure in U.S. politics as he bankrolled Republicans including businessman-turned-president Trump and fought Democrats. He also was a prominent supporter of Israel.

“He was an American patriot, a generous benefactor of charitable causes, and a strong supporter of Israel,” former President George W. Bush said in a statement.

Adelson and his Israeli-born physician wife, Miriam, gave more than $123 million US to Republican and conservative causes in the 2018 U.S. midterm congressional elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending — more than anyone else.

Dr. Miriam Adelson talks with her husband during a speech by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence in Las Vegas in 2017. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Adelsons were prolific backers of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, spending $20 million on the campaign and then $5 million more for his inauguration. The casino magnate was in regular contact with Trump after he took office and saw some of his cherished goals relating to Israel come to fruition, including the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in a break with decades of American policy. Adelson attended the embassy dedication ceremony in May 2018.

Empire exemplified by Venetian casino

Adelson, a college dropout and the son of a cab driver, was short and stocky, had thinning red hair and in later years used a motorized scooter because of a medical condition that made it difficult to walk. But his appearance belied his clout and drive.

“I know that a lot of people think that guys like me succeed by stepping on the broken backs of employees and other people, but they don’t understand that we, too, have philosophies and ideals that we adhere to very scrupulously,” he said at a Las Vegas event in 2008, according to the New Yorker magazine.

Adelson is pictured attending a presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in Hempstead, N.Y., in 2016. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

His empire in the United States, Macau and Singapore was exemplified by the Venetian resort casino in Las Vegas, which boasted replicas of landmarks from Venice, Italy, like canals, the Rialto Bridge and the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica. He filled his gambling hubs with trendy restaurants and shops, making them luxury destinations for business travellers and tourists alike.

In November 2018, Trump awarded Adelson’s wife the highest U.S. civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a move critics assailed as a presidential “thank you” for the couple’s financial backing. During the White House ceremony, Trump hailed the Adelsons for protecting “the sacred heritage of the Jewish faith,” placed the medal around her neck and kissed her on both cheeks.

Close friend of Netanyahu

Adelson also backed Republican president George W. Bush, then poured tens of millions of dollars into failed 2008 and 2012 efforts to defeat Democratic president Barack Obama.

Known for his extensive philanthropy and business ventures in Israel and donations to Jewish causes, Adelson counted the conservative Netanyahu as a close friend. He launched Israel Hayom, a free newspaper, in 2007 and it became the most-read daily in Israel. Critics said it favoured Netanyahu.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in an event at the White House last year as the Adelsons look on. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Adelson wrote in his newspaper in 2012 that Netanyahu was not “my puppet.” He was responding to former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who had accused Netanyahu of intervening in a U.S. election by opposing Obama “in the name of an American billionaire [Adelson] with a clear interest in the vote.”

Although initially reluctant to donate to Trump’s presidential bid, he became a Trump backer even as other wealthy Republican donors stayed away. Trump won his first major newspaper endorsement of the 2016 general election when the Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review Journal supported him.

“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it,” Adelson told Forbes magazine in 2012.

Seen as vengeful by detractors

Detractors described Adelson — who engaged in a court battle with his own sons, feuds with former associates and lawsuits against journalists — as vengeful and mean.

“Over time, I observed Mr. Adelson plot vendettas against anyone whom he believed stood in his way. However minuscule the perceived affront, he was certain to go ballistic, using his money and position to bully any ‘opponent’ — great or small — into submission,” Shelley Berkley, who worked for Adelson before serving from 1999 to 2013 as a Democratic U.S. congresswoman from Nevada, wrote in a Las Vegas newspaper in 1998.

WATCH | From 2018: Adelson influential in Trump’s decision to move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem:

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson was influential in Trump’s controversial decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and he also lobbied Trump on the Iran nuclear deal. Turns out Adelson also has a connection to former PM Stephen Harper. The CBC’s Wendy Mesley interviews Ken Vogel, who writes about money and politics for the New York Times. 8:11

Adelson was born in Boston in 1933. At age 12, he began selling newspapers on street corners. By 16, he ran a candy vending-machine business.

Earlier in his business career, Adelson dabbled in entrepreneurial ventures before launching in 1979 a Las Vegas computer trade show that became the world’s biggest. He used its success as a springboard to buy the aging Las Vegas Sands Hotel, then built the largest privately owned U.S. convention centre and later the Venetian.

Defended China’s rulers

Macau, a former Portuguese colony and Hong Kong neighbour known for gambling, reverted to Chinese rule in 1999. Foreign casino companies got their shot after a Hong Kong businessman’s Macau gambling monopoly ended. By 2004 Adelson opened his first casino and Macau later became the world’s top gambling centre. Las Vegas Sands’ initial public offering in December 2004 made him a multibillionaire.

While visiting a Macau casino project in 2007, Adelson defended China’s communist rulers against critics of the Asian giant’s human rights record, including U.S. lawmakers.

VIPs including Adelson cut the ribbon at the opening of the Sands Casino in Macau in 2004. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

His domain also included the $6 billion Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, which opened in 2010, and a casino in Bethlehem, Penn.

After his first marriage ended, in 1991 Adelson married Miriam Ochshorn, a doctor who specialized in drug addiction treatment. One of Adelson’s sons from his previous marriage, Mitchell, died in 2005 at age 48 of a drug overdose.

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