Largely apolitical for decades, Adelson became a colossal sums of money late in life. His influence spread widely as he and his wife, Miriam, donated to campaigns and causes through super PAC. In 2012, Adelson became the largest individual donor in U.S. electoral history, pumping more than $ 90 million into the presidential race in a failed effort to prevent President Barack Obama from winning a second term.
In her own statement, Miriam Adelson described her late husband as “the love of my life” and “my partner in romance, philanthropy, political activism and business. He was my soul mate ”.
Beyond “improving the lives of individuals,” said Miriam Adelson, Sheldon Adelson “has shaped the course of nations. Some of the historic changes he helped bring about – in the United States, Israel and elsewhere – are publicly known. Others are not. “But ‘the recognition of her own indispensable role was irrelevant,” she said, and “the end of her ideal day was in the company of family and friends, not statesmen or celebrities “.
President Donald Trump said in a statement that Adelson had “lived the true American dream” and “was loyal to his family, to his country and to everyone who knew him. The world has lost a great man. He will be missed. “.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that he and his wife Sara were “heartbroken” by the news of Adelson’s death. “He was a wonderful friend to us personally and an incredible champion of the Jewish people, the Jewish state and the alliance between Israel and America,” Netanyahu wrote.
Prior to the 2016 election, Adelson’s so-called primary gathered Republican candidates in Las Vegas to ask for his blessing. “As Adelson roamed his Venetian kingdom on a motorized scooter during retirement,” POLITICO reported at a Republican Jewish rally in 2014, “he was often followed by GOP agents, politicians and other eager donors. assess his state of mind, advise him on what he should do or simply lavish praise and gratitude on him. “
After that election, he donated $ 5 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, another record sum. And during the 2020 campaign cycle, the Adelsons gave $ 50 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, the GOP house super PAC, and $ 70 million to the Senate Leadership Fund.
He has also donated millions over the years to pro-Israel organizations, and by the end of December he had provided a private plane to transport doomed spy Jonathan Pollard and his wife from the United States to Israel. Still, Adelson mostly stayed out of public view.
“Despite his growing influence as the party kingmaker and his colossal financial footprint,” Mike Allen wrote in September 2012, “Adelson is rarely seen or heard from, and he has remained a mystery even to many high-profile Republicans.”
In this POLITICO interview, Adelson quoted a legendary soccer coach when talking about his determination to win: “I guess you could say that I live on Vince Lombardi’s belief: ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s is the only thing. “So I do whatever it takes, as long as it’s moral, ethical, principled, legal,” he said.
Adelson was born in Boston on August 4, 1933, the son of a Lithuanian taxi driver and a Wales-born seamstress. “I didn’t know we were poor, but we were very poor,” he later said.
At age 12, he started his own business as a newspaper peddler, purchasing the exclusive rights to sell newspapers outside of Filene’s Basement, a Boston department store. Four years later he started a vending machine business. “Adelson made his way to a better life,” Mother Jones magazine wrote in 2016, “through thrift, opportunism and hard work, emerging, in many ways, as a thorny scrapper and combative.
In 1979, Adelson was one of the founders of Comdex, a lucrative Las Vegas computer expo. “Sheldon wanted to be richer than Bill Gates,” a former CEO of Comdex told the New York Times in 2008. “He always wanted to be No. 1.”
A dropout, Adelson relied on his moxie and gut instincts as he moved from company to company. Considering how often he has rolled the dice during his career, it might not come as a surprise that he has been associated with casinos, starting with The Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
The Sands had a history that was both romantic and notorious, associated with Frank Sinatra and his pack of rats, Howard Hughes, and gangsters like Meyer Lansky. In 1988, when Adelson bought it, it was running on steam.
He shaved it off. The Venetian rose in its place.
Built at a cost of $ 1.5 billion, the new casino opened on May 3, 1999. Glamorous assistance that day was provided by Italian film star Sophia Loren, who said she was “absolutely flabbergasted” by the “absolutely miraculous” complex. Casinos in other locations would follow, including Singapore and Macau. As of October 2019, Forbes estimated Adelson’s net worth at $ 34.4 billion.
With great wealth came legal problems: Adelson and his company became the subject of a series of government investigations. In 2017, his casino company paid a fine of $ 6.96 million to resolve a Justice Department investigation and a $ 9 million fine in an SEC corruption case.
The angry mogul has also been the target of multi-million dollar lawsuits, as well as battles with local contractors and officials. And there was harassment in 2015 when it became clear he was the secret buyer of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada’s most influential newspaper.
In 1991, Adelson married Miriam Ochshorn, 12 years his junior and from his beloved Israel, whom he met on a blind date three years after divorcing his first wife, Sandra. The two would partner on many companies, including the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation. “She is an accomplished physician, as well as her husband’s partner in a range of business and philanthropic endeavors,” Fortune wrote in 2012.
“Sheldon is my everything,” Miriam Adelson told Fortune for this article. She added: “We are on a wonderful flight together.”
Israel is believed to be at the center of their philanthropy, with the two donating more than $ 100 million to Birthright Israel, an organization that funds trips to Israel. for the Jewish youth of the world.
Listing the world’s most influential Jews in 2015, the Jewish newspaper Algemeiner said Adelson “continues to give outsized gifts to a range of Jewish and non-Jewish groups.” (These efforts would be cited when Trump awarded Miriam Adelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.)
Sheldon Adelson was a relative latecomer in politics. A Democrat in his formative years, he always said: “I did not leave the Democrats, they left me”. He said it was the 1988 Democratic National Convention that inspired him – in this case, to become Republican support.
“Adelson said,” Allen wrote, “that he had been fairly apolitical until a friend invited him to his first national political convention – the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta.” It wasn’t really much fun because everywhere I went … everyone was talking about the kind of job they were going to get when Michael Dukakis became president, “he recalls.” It disgusted me.
No political figure would draw more contempt from him than Barack Obama, whose Middle East policy he considered dangerous. This concern attracted him strongly to the 2012 campaign, in which he initially supported former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “Adelson, who has reportedly donated up to $ 20 million to the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future super PAC, is above all concerned about defending Israel,” POLITICO wrote in 2012.
Once it was clear that Gingrich wasn’t going to win, he went all-in for Mitt Romney, donating at least $ 70 million for the GOP nominee – and quite possibly more, in the form of donations to groups not required to disclose their donors.
Romney lost, but Adelson’s lavish spending created a feeding frenzy around him for the 2016 election.
At first, he and his wife were largely left on the sidelines, disappointing those hoping to support Florida Senator Marco Rubio or another anti-Trump GOP candidate. “No one knows exactly why he is still on the sidelines or when he might come off,” a Republican member reportedly said in February 2016.
In May, Adelson backed Trump. “If Republicans do not come together to support Trump, Obama will essentially be granted something the Constitution does not allow – a third term in Hillary Clinton’s name,” he wrote. Adelson and Trump then met to talk. The money has poured in.
After Trump’s election, Adelson donated to his inaugural committee. However, there were times they couldn’t see eye-to-eye, especially when Jewish activists close to Adelson spoke of Trump’s muted response to an increase in anti-Semitic incidents. In November 2017, the Adelsons also made it known that they did not agree with Steve Bannon’s insurgent efforts against establishment Republicans. “They are 100% backing Mitch McConnell,” a spokesperson said.
Extending its reach beyond the presidential elections, the Adelsons have backed candidates in the secondary races, with mixed success. They also opposed the legalization of marijuana and online gambling.
As a veteran of the video game industry, Adelson has said he’s not surprised by the ups and downs of electoral politics.
“I happen to be in a unique business where winning and losing is the basis of the whole business,” Adelson said at one point. “So I don’t cry when I lose. There’s always a new hand coming up.”