Casino mogul Adelson, who built MBS, dies

87-year-old succumbs to complications from treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson was one of America’s heavyweight political spenders.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson was one of America’s heavyweight political spenders.

NEW YORK • Mr Sheldon Adelson, a taxi driver's son who built the world's largest empire of casinos and resort hotels in Las Vegas, Macau, Singapore and elsewhere, and used his vast wealth to promote right-wing political agendas in America and Israel, died on Monday night.

He was 87. He died of complications from treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the Las Vegas Sands said yesterday in a statement announcing his death.

He grew up tough, a Depression-era street urchin who hawked newspapers and fought roughnecks in Boston.

Unfazed by risks, rivals or the law, he acquired Las Vegas Sands Corp and a fortune estimated in 2014 by Forbes at US$36.6 billion (S$48.6 billion) and by Bloomberg Billionaires Index at US$40.8 billion, making him the world's eighth or ninth wealthiest person.

By March 2016, Forbes said Mr Adelson's net worth had dropped to US$25.2 billion, largely because of gaming revenue declines at his giant casino in Macau, where the swarms of junketing Chinese businessmen and Communist Party officials had all but dried up in a corruption crackdown by President Xi Jinping of China.

But Mr Adelson seemed to take the loss in stride, and it had no apparent effect on his political influence or his bottom line.

In March 2019, Forbes put his net worth at US$35.1 billion.

His ride to riches had been more roller coaster than escalator, anyway. After taking Sands public in 2004, his net worth grew for two years by US$1 million an hour.

In a few months in 2009, it fell from US$30 billion to US$2 billion. But by 2013, he had it all back, with billions to spare. Often the cash register rang up US$2 million an hour.

Along the way, he drew countless gamblers and vacationers to his archipelago of fantasy resorts with Venetian-themed canals, motorised gondolas, singing gondoliers and replicas of St Mark's Campanile and the Rialto Bridge to go with hectares of slot machines and roulette wheels, lavish floor shows and the biggest, gaudiest hotels anywhere on the planet.

Mr Adelson also became one of America's heavyweight political spenders - the largest single donor in the 2012 elections - following the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010, which removed many limits on political contributions as unconstitutional infringements of free speech.

In May 2016, after Mr Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mr Adelson told him in a private meeting in Manhattan that he was willing to contribute more to help elect him than he had to any previous campaign, a sum that could exceed US$100 million, according to two Republicans with direct knowledge of Mr Adelson's commitment. He eventually gave the Trump presidential campaign only US$25 million, and was still its largest donor.

After Mr Trump's election, Mr Adelson gave US$5 million to the committee organising the inauguration festivities. It was the largest single contribution for any president's inaugural event, and on the day of the swearing-in ceremony in January 2017, Mr Adelson and his wife sat along the aisle a few rows back as Mr Trump took the oath of office.

Under the Trump administration, the Adelsons achieved at least one of their long-held goals: the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in 2018.

With cornucopias of cash, Mr Adelson had for years showered king's ransoms on Republican Party stalwarts.

He built other casino-hotels in Macau, Singapore and Pennsylvania, and added the Palazzo in Las Vegas. Mr Adelson's Las Vegas Sands owns Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

In 2013, he dropped plans for a US$30 billion resort near Madrid after failing to win Spanish concessions. But he planned casinos in Japan, an untapped gambling mega market, and, with billions at stake, lobbied hard against online gambling.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2021, with the headline 'Casino mogul Adelson, who built MBS, dies'. Print Edition | Subscribe