Sheldon Adelson: A Life of Politics, Gambling, and Newspapers

Also see the New York Times obit by Robert D. McFadden headlined “Sheldon Adelson, Billionaire Donor to G.O.P. and Israel, Is Dead at 87”:

From a Washington Post obit by Donald Frazier headlined “Sheldon Adelson, casino magnate who influenced policy from D.C. to Jerusalem, dies at 87”:

Sheldon G. Adelson, a billionaire casino tycoon and free-spending political donor who helped bankroll conservative candidates in the United States and Israel, and who pushed the governments of both countries to reject the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, died Jan. 11 in Malibu, Calif. . . .

Mr. Adelson, who fought his way up from an arduous childhood in Boston, was a vivid and polarizing character, a serial entrepreneur who transformed gambling in Las Vegas and Macao and brought the same bare-knuckled approach to the exercise of political influence.

One of the world’s richest self-made men, he amassed an estimated fortune at one point this decade valued at $40 billion — Forbes now lists it at $35 billion — and used much of it to advance conservative causes and leaders, including a $25 million donation to help elect Donald Trump as president in 2016. He also played a sizable role in underwriting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power in 2009.

In Jerusalem and Washington, Mr. Adelson brandished his money and influence to advance his favorite cause: a strong Israel that precludes a Palestinian state. He also started and bought newspapers in Nevada and Israel that promoted his views. . . .

Little known outside the business world for much of his life, Mr. Adelson vaulted to the forefront of national politics in 2012, when he and his wife buoyed the faltering presidential campaign of former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) with tens of millions of dollars in donations to a political action committee. . . .

Sheldon Gary Adelson was born in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood on Aug. 4, 1933. His father was a Jewish Lithuanian immigrant who worked as a cabdriver. His British-born mother ran a knitting business from the tenement where he grew up with three siblings.

At 12, Mr. Adelson often recalled, he began selling newspapers, but he disliked sharing profits. So instead, he went into the business of leasing “newspaper corners” with the help of an uncle who lent him the money to get started. “My uncle said, ‘If I give you the $200, you have to show up every Tuesday with a $15 payment plus interest,’ ” Mr. Adelson told the Los Angeles Times. “I said, ‘Wait, I gotta pay this back?’ He taught me about loans and about interest.”

After four years in the newspaper business, he said, he borrowed thousands of dollars from his uncle to buy a company that operated Boston-area candy-vending machines, some of which he placed in all-night gas stations catering to cabdrivers like his father. . . .

In 1988, Mr. Adelson and his partners bought the aging Sands Hotel and Casino, which had attained a louche appeal in the 1960s as the Las Vegas hangout of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack. In November 1996, the Sands was demolished to make room for a Venice-themed hotel and casino to compete with Steve Wynn’s Mirage, Treasure Island and (then under construction) Bellagio.

When it opened in 1999, the Venetian featured high-end restaurants and shops, an indoor piazza bathed with faux Adriatic light, a reproduction of the bell tower in St. Mark’s Square and an indoor waterway with singing gondoliers. . . .

Mr. Adelson’s image has been burnished by many significant philanthropic contributions. He gave more than $65 million to Israeli universities and think tanks, $25 million to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and hundreds of millions to educational and cultural exchange programs.

He also used his money to launch or buy media outlets that served as a megaphone for his political causes and a means of countering criticism of his business practices.

To combat liberal influence in Israel, especially support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he started a newspaper in 2007 that blankets the nation with free copies. The Israel Hayom, which is owned through an Adelson relative, has been a consistent backer of Netanyahu’s Likud coalition, an advocate of active Israeli settlement of the West Bank, and a foe of any Palestinian state.

Reporters and editors for the Las Vegas Review-Journal learned after the fact that Mr. Adelson had purchased their newspaper in late 2015 for $140 million, a price publishing consultants said was significantly higher than market value. The deal was arranged by Mr. Adelson’s son-in-law through a holding company. Dissenting editors were soon gone, and the new team began to vet all stories alluding to Mr. Adelson and his many legal disputes.

Over the years, Mr. Adelson had brought defamation suits against reporters. He drove at least one — John L. Smith, a prominent Review-Journal columnistinto bankruptcy, although the lawsuit, over errors in a book by Smith, was eventually dropped.

Despite his financial and political muscle, Mr. Adelson never abandoned the persona of the scrappy underdog. He was also an aggressive micromanager, according to a New Yorker article that recounted how he once became impatient with a typist who had made a couple of errors in a letter. “Adelson sat down and showed her how it was done — at ninety words a minute.”

He took unabashed pride in his success, introducing himself as “the richest Jew in the world,” and he cultivated the image of a mercurial patron of people and causes.

Mr. Adelson had suffered since 2001 from a peripheral neuropathy, which made it difficult to walk, and he would appear in court riding a motorized scooter. Despite declining health, Mr. Adelson maintained active control of his business and political interests until the end. As his fortunes waxed and waned, although his preferred candidates sometimes lost elections, he seemed unruffled.

“Everything is cyclical,” he told the publication Casino Journal in 2014. “It’s like gambling. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down.”

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