Sheldon Gary Adelson (pronounced /ˈædəlsən/; born August 4, 1933) is an American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist. He is the chairman and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, the parent company of Venetian Macao Limited which operates The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center. He also owns the Israeli daily newspaper Israel HaYom. Adelson, a lifelong donor and philanthropist to a variety of causes, founded with his wife’s initiative the Adelson Foundation.
As of July 2014, Adelson was listed by Forbes as having a fortune of $36.4 billion, and as the 10th richest person in the world.
Early life and education
Adelson was born into a poor family and grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Sarah (née Tonkin) and Arthur Adelson. His family was of Ukrainian Jewish ancestry. His father drove a taxi, and his mother ran a knitting shop.
He started his business career at the age of 12, when he borrowed two hundred dollars from his uncle and purchased a license to sell newspapers in Boston. At the age of 16, he had started a candy-vending-machine business. He attended trade school to become a court reporter and subsequently joined the army. Adelson attended City College of New York, but soon decided to drop out.
He established a business selling toiletry kits after being discharged from the army then started another business named De-Ice-It, which sold a chemical spray to help clear frozen windshields. In the 1960s, he started a charter tours business. He had soon become a millionaire, although by his 30s he had built and lost a fortune twice. Over the course of his business career, Adelson has created over 50 of his own businesses.
In the late 1970s, Adelson and his partners developed the computer trade show COMDEX, for the computer industry; the first show was in 1979. It was the premier computer trade show through much of the 1980s and 1990s.
Las Vegas, Nevada
In 1988, Adelson and his partners purchased the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the former hangout of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. The following year, Adelson and his partners constructed the Sands Expo and Convention Center, then the only privately owned and operated convention center in the US.
In 1991, while honeymooning in Venice with his second wife, Miriam, Adelson found the inspiration for a mega-resort hotel. He razed the Sands and spent $1.5 billion to construct The Venetian, a Venice-themed resort hotel and casino. The Venetian opened May 3, 1999. In 2003, The Venetian added the 1,013-suite Venezia tower – giving the hotel 4,049 suites; 18 restaurants and a shopping mall with canals, gondolas and singing gondoliers.
In August 2007, Adelson opened the $2.4-billion Venetian Macao Resort Hotel on Cotai and announced that he planned to create a massive, concentrated resort area he called the Cotai Strip, after its Las Vegas counterpart. Adelson said that he planned to open more hotels under brands such as Four Seasons, Sheraton and St. Regis. His Las Vegas Sands planned to invest $12 billion and build 20,000 hotel rooms on the Cotai Strip by 2010.
In the late 2000s, Adelson and the company decided to build a casino resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It is one of five stand-alone casinos that were awarded a slots license by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in 2006. The casino opened May 22, 2009. Table games began operation on July 18, 2010. The hotel opened May 27, 2011.
Adelson said “If we have the opportunity to build an integrated resort, we’re going to do it. We think it will attract the customers and the tax revenue to the state of Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley and the cities that are in it.”
Adelson spearheaded a major project to bring the Sands name to Macau, the Chinese gambling city that had been a Portuguese colony until December 1999. The one-million-square-foot Sands Macao became the People’s Republic of China‘s first Las Vegas-style casino when it opened in May 2004. Adelson recovered his initial $265-million investment in one year and, because he owns 69% of the stock, he increased his wealth when he took the stock public in December 2004. Since the opening of the Sands Macao, Adelson’s personal wealth has multiplied more than fourteen times.
Marina Bay, Singapore
In May 2006, Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands was awarded a hotly contested license to construct a casino resort in Singapore’s Marina Bay. The new casino, Marina Bay Sands, opened in 2010 at a rumored cost of $5.5 billion. It includes a shopping mall, convention center, and 2,500 luxury hotel rooms.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “I Didn’t Leave the Democrats. They Left me”, Adelson specifies three reasons why he switched political parties. First, he cites foreign policy, pointing to a Gallup poll that suggests Republicans are more supportive of Israel than Democrats. Second, he cites statistics that suggest Republicans are more charitable than Democrats. To support this claim Adelson adduces a report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy which found, after studying tax data from the IRS, that U.S. states which vote Republican are more generous to charities than those states which vote Democratic. “My father, who kept a charity box for the poor in our house,” he writes, “would have frowned on this fact about modern Democrats.” This leads him to his third reason—economic policy—for leaving the Democratic Party. He writes:
Democrats would reply that taxation and government services are better vehicles for helping the underprivileged. And, yes, government certainly has its role. But when you look at states where Democrats have enjoyed years of one-party dominance—California, Illinois, New York—you find that their liberal policies simply don’t deliver on their promises of social justice. Take, for example, President Obama’s adopted home state. In October, a nonpartisan study of Illinois’s finances by the State Budget Crisis Task Force offered painful evidence that liberal Illinois is suffering from abject economic, demographic and social decline. With the worst credit rating in the country, and with the second-biggest public debt per capita, the Prairie State “has been doing back flips on a high wire, without a net,” according to the report.
Adelson then quotes at length political scientist Walter Russell Mead who, Adelson claims, “summed up the sad results of these findings” at The American Interest:
Illinois politicians, including the present president of the United States, have wrecked one of the country’s potentially most prosperous and dynamic states, condemned millions of poor children to substandard education, failed to maintain vital infrastructure, choked business development and growth through unsustainable tax and regulatory policies—and still failed to appease the demands of the public sector unions and fee-seeking Wall Street crony capitalists who make billions off the state’s distress.
Adelson questioned the Obama administration in an interview with Forbes:
What scares me is the continuation of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years. That scares me because the redistribution of wealth is the path to more socialism, and to more of the government controlling people’s lives. What scares me is the lack of accountability that people would prefer to experience, just let the government take care of everything.
U.S. domestic politics is very important to me because I see that the things that made this country great are now being relegated into duplicating that which is making other countries less great. … I’m afraid of the trend where more and more people have the tendency to want to be given instead of wanting to give. People are less willing to share. There are fewer philanthropists being grown and there are greater expectations of the government. I believe that people will come to their senses and not extend the current Administration’s quest to socialize this country. It won’t be a socialist democracy because it won’t be a democracy.
Fighting the “mainstreaming” of cannabis legalization is a personal passion of Adelson who lost a son, Mitchell, to a drug overdose. Mitchell was said to have used cocaine and heroin from an early age. Adelson believes that cannabis is a gateway drug. Andy Abboud, vice president of Las Vegas Sands, has stated that “Pro marijuana folks have awoken a sleeping giant in Sheldon and Miriam Adelson”.
In February 2012, Adelson told Forbes magazine that he is “against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it. Because I know that guys like Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades. And they stay below the radar by creating a network of corporations to funnel their money. I have my own philosophy and I’m not ashamed of it. I gave the money because there is no other legal way to do it. I don’t want to go through ten different corporations to hide my name. I’m proud of what I do and I’m not looking to escape recognition.”
Adelson was the principal financial backer of Freedom’s Watch, a now-defunct political advocacy group founded to counter the influence of George Soros and Democratic-leaning lobby groups such as MoveOn.org. “Almost all” of the $30 million Freedom’s Watch spent on the 2008 elections came from Adelson.
In 2010, Adelson donated $1 million to American Solutions for Winning the Future, a political action committee (PAC) supporting Republican former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. In December 2011, during Gingrich’s bid for the U.S. presidency, Adelson spoke favorably of controversial remarks Gingrich had made about Palestinians, saying “read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians, and you will hear why Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are an invented people.”
U.S. Senate candidates he donated to:
- Carly Fiorina (R-CA), former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard;
- Sharron Angle (R-NV), Assemblywoman;
- Sue Lowden (R-NV), former State Senator;
- Scott Brown (R-MA), U.S. Senator and former State Senator;
- Roy Blunt (R-MO), U.S. Congressman;
- Mark Kirk (R-IL), U.S. Congressman;
- Pat Toomey (R-PA), former U.S. Congressman;
- Charlie Crist (R-FL), Governor.
During the 2012 Republican Party presidential primaries, Adelson first supported Newt Gingrich and then the eventual nominee Mitt Romney. Altogether he spent 92 million dollars supporting losing candidates during the 2012 United States presidential election cycle. On January 7, 2012, Adelson bolstered Gingrich’s then-faltering campaign with a $5-million donation to the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future. By the next day, the super PAC had reserved more than $3.4 million in advertising time in the South Carolina primary, which included production and distribution of a half-hour movie that portrayed Gingrich’s political rival Mitt Romney as a “predatory corporate raider”. On January 23, Adelson’s wife, Miriam, contributed an additional $5 million to the same organization with instructions to use it to advance a “pro-Newt message”. Adelson told Forbes that he was willing to donate as much as $100 million to Gingrich.
In June 2012, Adelson donated $10 million to the pro-Romney PAC Restore Our Future. In July, Adelson attended a Romney fundraiser held in Jerusalem. Adelson joined Woody Johnson, John Rakolta, Paul Singer, and several dozen other contributors on the trip. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, as of July Adelson already had given Republicans more than $30 million for the 2012 election cycle.
Romney believes that China should be pressured to drop its presumptively low fixed exchange rate policy; according to Bloomberg, Adelson would benefit financially in US dollar terms through his interest in Chinese casinos if the Chinese yuan were to appreciate.
Early in 2014 Adelson donated $2.5 million to the Drug Free Florida Committee, the political committee trying to defeat Florida’s Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative which would legalize Medical cannabis in that state. Later in 2014 Adelson donated an additional $1.5 million to the No On 2 campaign. He believes that cannabis is a gateway drug. 
According to the Washington Post, Adelson’s strategy for the 2016 United States presidential election is to support a mainstream candidate capable of winning in 2016. In March 2014 Adelson was set to hold one-on-one chats with possible candidates Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich during the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition held at Adelson’s luxury hotel and casino The Venetian Las Vegas.
Adelson donated over $25 million to the The Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas to build a high school. In 2006 Adelson contributed $25 million to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.
Since 2007, the Adelson Family Foundation has made contributions totalling $140 million to Birthright Israel, which finances Jewish youth trips to Israel. He also donated $5 million to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in 2014.
Adelson also has funded the Boston-based Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation. AMRF is a private foundation. This foundation initiated the Adelson Program in Neural Repair and Rehabilitation (APNRR) with $7.5 million donated to collaborating researchers at 10 universities.
In 2007, Adelson’s estimated wealth was $26.5 billion, making him the third-richest person in the United States according to Forbes. and $26 billion for 2008. In 2008, the share prices of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. plunged. And in November 2008, Las Vegas Sands Corp. announced that it might default on bonds that it had outstanding, signaling the potential bankruptcy of the concern. Adelson lost $4 billion in 2008, more than any other American billionaire. In 2009, his net worth had declined from approximately $30 billion to $2 billion, or 93%. He told ABC News “So I lost $25 billion. I started out with zero…(there is) no such thing as fear, not to an entrepreneur. Concern, yes. Fear, no.” In the Forbes 2009 world billionaires list, Adelson’s ranking dropped to #178 with a net worth of $3.4 billion, but by 2011, after his business had recovered, he was ranked as the world’s 16th-richest man with a net worth of $23.3 billion. In 2013, Adelson earned a top ranking on Forbes’ Annual ‘Biggest Winner’ List, his dramatic growth a result of the success of his casinos in Macau and Singapore, adding an estimated $15 billion to his net worth during the year. In 2013, Adelson was worth $37.2 billion according to Forbes, and as of May 2014, his net worth is $37 billion.