Sheldon Gary Adelson (pronounced /ˈædəlsən/; born August 4, 1933) is an American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist. He is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which owns the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and is 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, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Adelson, a lifelong donor and philanthropist to a variety of causes, founded with his wife's initiative the Adelson Foundation. He is a member of the Republican Party.
As of August 2016, Adelson was listed by Forbes as having a fortune of US$32.2 billion. He is a major contributor to Republican Party candidates. He has been the largest donor, of any party, in both the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns. He was the largest donor to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign with a total of $25 million.
Sheldon Gary Adelson was born into a low-income family and grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Sarah (née Tonkin) and Arthur Adelson. His father's family was of Ukrainian and Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. His mother immigrated from England, and one of his grandfathers was a Welsh coalminer. 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 $200 from his uncle (or $2,640 in 2015 dollars) and purchased a license to sell newspapers in Boston. At age 16 in 1948, he then borrowed $10,000 (or $98,500 in 2015 dollars) from his uncle to start 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 decided to drop out to dedicate his full-time to entrepreneurship.
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 almost 50 of his own businesses.
In the late 1970s, Adelson and his partners developed the computer trade shows 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.
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 U.S.
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 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. He 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.
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.
Adelson's company was reportedly under federal investigation over alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act relating to payments made to a Macau lawyer. In 2015, Sands agreed to pay a $9 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission., which included no admission of wrongdoing.
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 stores at The Shoppes, convention center for Sands Live concert series, multiple swimming pools, night clubs, and 2,500 luxury hotel rooms.
In 2007, Adelson made an unsuccessful bid to purchase the Israeli newspaper Maariv. When this failed, he proceeded with parallel plans to publish a free daily newspaper to compete with Israeli, a newspaper he had co-founded in 2006 but had left. The first edition of the new newspaper, Israel Hayom, was published on July 30, 2007. On March 31, 2014, Adelson received the go-ahead from a Jerusalem court to purchase Maariv and the conservative newspaper Makor Rishon. In 2016 Adelson's attorney announced that he does not own Israel Hayom, it is owned by a relative of his.
According to a Target Group Index (TGI) survey published in July 2011, Israel Hayom, which unlike all other Israeli newspapers is distributed for free, became the number-one daily newspaper (on weekdays) four years after its inception. This survey found that Israel Hayom had a 39.3% weekday readership exposure, Yedioth Ahronoth 37%, Maariv 12.1%, and Haaretz 5.8%. The Yedioth Ahronoth weekend edition was still leading with a 44.3% readership exposure, compared to 31% for the Israel Hayom weekend edition, 14.9% for Maariv, and 6.8% for Haaretz. This trend was already observed by a TGI survey in July 2010.
In 2011, the Israeli press said that Adelson was unhappy with coverage of him on Israeli Channel 10, which alleged that Adelson had acquired a casino license in Las Vegas inappropriately through political connections. The channel apologized after Adelson threatened a lawsuit. This led to the resignations of the news chief, Reudor Benziman; the news editor, Ruti Yuval; and the news anchor, Guy Zohar, who objected to the apology. After two months of deliberations, the Israeli Second Authority for Television and Radio ruled that although there were some flaws in the manner in which the apology had been conducted, the decision to apologize had been correct and appropriate.
In a 2012 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 that vote Republican are more generous to charities than those states that vote Democratic. "My father, who kept a charity box for the poor in our house ... 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.
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 concluded the article with these words:
Although I don't agree with every Republican position—I'm liberal on several social issues—there is enough common cause with the party for me to know I've made the right choice. It's the choice that, I believe, my old immigrant Jewish neighbors would have made. They would not have let a few disagreements with Republicans void the importance of siding with the political party that better supports liberal democracies like Israel, the party that better exemplifies the spirit of charity, and the party with economic policies that would certainly be better for those Americans now looking for work. The Democratic Party just isn't what it used to be.
Others have attributed different motives for Adelson's party switch. "Why is it fair that I should be paying a higher percentage of taxes than anyone else?" he reportedly said to an associate, according to The New Yorker, which claims Adelson began making major contributions to the Republican National Committee following clashes with labor unions at his Las Vegas properties.
The New Yorker article also quoted Shelley Berkley, a Nevada Democratic Party congresswoman, with whom Adelson has had a long and notable feud, who formerly worked for him in the 1990s as vice-president of legal and governmental affairs, who said Adelson told her that "old Democrats were with the union and he wanted to break the back of the union, consequently he had to break the back of the Democrats". The Boston Globe claims that Adelson has "waged some bitter anti-union battles in Las Vegas". Berkley is further quoted in the New Yorker article as saying that Adelson "seeks to dominate politics and public policy through the raw power of money".
Adelson denies those explanations for his political beliefs and behavior, suggesting such depictions of him are tainted by his critics' own political ideology. He stated, "My critics nowadays like to claim it's because I got wealthy or because I didn't want to pay taxes or because of some other conservative caricature. No, the truth is the Democratic Party has changed in ways that no longer fit with someone of my upbringing."
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.
Adelson sat out the 2016 Republican primaries, with some early indicators at the beginning of 2016 interpreted as showing that Adelson favored Trump. In May 2016, explaining his reasons for officially endorsing Donald Trump's presidential bid, Adelson cited the importance of CEO experience in a presidential nominee:
I felt strongly that someone with that level of CEO experience would be well-trained for the job of president. It turns out that is exactly what we are getting in Trump. He is a candidate with actual CEO experience, shaped and molded by the commitment and risk of his own money rather than the public’s. He is a CEO success story that exemplifies the American spirit of determination, commitment to cause and business stewardship. Despite being the grandson of a Welsh coal miner and the son of a Boston cab driver, I’ve had the remarkable experience of being part of almost 50 different businesses in my more than 70-year business career. So, tell me I’m not a conservative enough Republican or I’m too hawkish on Israel or whatever else you may think, but I think I’ve earned the right to talk about success and leadership.
On September 23, Adelson announced a $25 million donation to Trump's presidential campaign, as part of a $65 million donation to the Republican electoral campaign for 2016. This makes Adelson by far the biggest donor in either party (Republicans or Democrats) in the 2016 election cycle. It also makes him by far the largest donor to Donald Trump's White House bid.
Adelson was also the largest donor to Trump's inaugural celebrations, with a $5 million donation to the celebrations.
In a panel discussion at Yeshiva University on October 22, 2013, Adelson said that the United States must get tougher about Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program. Controversy arose when he said: "You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say 'OK, let it go' and so there’s an atomic weapon goes over, ballistic missiles in the middle of the desert that doesn’t hurt a soul, maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever”. He went on to explain that, after a show of force and a threat to also drop a nuclear bomb on Tehran, the U.S. should then say: if "You [Iran] want to be peaceful, just reverse it all and we will guarantee that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes." Adelson's spokesman told reporters that Adelson "was obviously not speaking literally" about using an atomic bomb in the desert, and that he was "using hyperbole to make a point that … actions speak louder than words".
During the Suen trial, Bill Weidner, the president of Adelson's Las Vegas Sands company, testified about a telephone conversation between Adelson and his friend then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) about a bill proposed by Representative Tom Lantos (D) that would have prevented the U.S. Olympic Committee from voting in favor of the Chinese bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. A few hours later, DeLay called back and told Adelson he could tell the mayor of Beijing "this bill will never see the light of day". The resolution did not pass. Adelson testified in court that the demise of the resolution "...resulted from the press of other legislation, (not from) a deliberate move by DeLay to help his benefactor."
Fighting the "mainstreaming" of cannabis legalization is a personal passion of Adelson, whose son Mitchell died of a drug overdose. Mitchell was said to have used cocaine and heroin from an early age.
Adelson has fought increasingly hard against internet based gambling in recent years. Despite the legalization, and acceptance from many Las Vegas Casino CEOs, Adelson has poured money into candidates who want to overturn recent state legislation that legalizes online gambling. In early 2015 Adelson publicly backed a bill introduced in the US House of Representatives. The legislation, named the Restore America's Wire Act, has been met with mixed reviews by the Republican Party.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, were presented with the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution on March 25, 2008.
Additionally, President George W. Bush appointed the Adelsons to serve on the Honorary Delegation to accompany him to Jerusalem for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel in May 2008.
In 2014, Adelson was named to CNBC's list of 200 people who have transformed business over the last 25 years; those on the list were described as “top leaders, icons and rebels, a definitive list of people who have had the greatest influence, sparked the biggest changes and caused the most disruption in business over the past quarter century.”
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:
During the 2012 Republican Party presidential primaries, Adelson first supported Newt Gingrich and then the eventual nominee Mitt Romney. Altogether he spent $92 million 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 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 a 2014 Washington Post report, Adelson's strategy for the 2016 United States presidential election was to support a mainstream candidate capable of winning the presidency. 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 hotel and casino The Venetian Las Vegas. During the December 2015 Republican debate held at that same venue, Adelson was reported to have held one-on-one meetings with several of the candidates prior to the start of the debate, including front runner Donald Trump. On May 13, he endorsed Trump for president, and pledged as much as $100 million to support his campaign.
In October 2016 Adelson, whose son died of a drug overdose, donated one million dollars to the campaign against Massachusetts ballot question 4 the Massachusetts Legalization, Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Initiative which legalized marijuana for personal use. Adelson also donated $1,500,000 towards the unsuccessful effort to thwart the 2016 Florida medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative,
Adelson donated over $25 million to 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 private, Boston-based Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research 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 the 1970s, Sheldon Adelson lived in Massachusetts with his wife, Sandra, and her three children, Mitchell, Gary and Shelley, whom Sheldon adopted when they were young. They divorced in 1988. Adelson met Miriam on a blind date the following year and married in 1991. Miriam Ochshorn (nėe Farbstein) was born in Mandatory Palestine in 1946. Miriam was married to a Tel Aviv physician, Dr. Ariel Ochshorn, with whom she had two daughters until they divorced.
A June 2008 profile in The New Yorker detailed several controversies involving Adelson. In 2008 Richard Suen, a Hong Kong businessman who had helped Adelson make connections with top Chinese officials in order to obtain the Macau license, took Adelson to court in Las Vegas alleging he had reneged on his agreement to allow Suen to profit from the venture. Suen won a $43.8 million judgement; in November 2010, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the judgment and returned the case to the lower court for further consideration. In the 2013 retrial, the jury awarded Suen a verdict for $70 million. The judge added another $31.6 million in interest, bringing the total judgment against Adelson to $101.6 million. Adelson is appealing again. Adelson faces another trial over claims by three alleged "middlemen" in the deal who are suing for at least $450 million.
In February 2013, the Las Vegas Sands, in a regulatory filing, acknowledged that it had likely violated federal law that prohibits the bribing of foreign officials. Allegedly, Chinese officials were bribed to allow Adelson to build his Macau casino.
Adelson successfully sued the Daily Mail of London for libel in 2008. The newspaper had accused him of pursuing "despicable business practices" and having "habitually and corruptly bought political favour". Adelson won the libel case, which was described as "a grave slur on Mr Adelson's personal integrity and business reputation", and he won a judgment of approximately £4 million, which he said he would donate to London's Royal Marsden Hospital.
In August 2012, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), after being threatened with a libel suit, apologized and withdrew two blog posts that claimed Adelson had donated "Chinese prostitution money" to Republicans. Another organization, the National Jewish Democratic Council, posted on their website that Adelson "personally approved” of prostitution at his Macau resorts. Adelson sued for libel, but a federal judge dismissed the suit in September 2013, ordering Adelson to pay the NJDC's legal fees.
In 2008, the share prices of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. plunged. In November 2008, Las Vegas Sands Corp. announced 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 December 2014, his net worth is $30.4 billion.
Adelson owns a fleet of private jets through Las Vegas Sands. On January 2, 2017 Adelson's Airbus A340-500 jet set a record for the Ben Gurion International Airport by making the longest flight ever leaving the airport by flying nonstop to Honolulu, Hawaii by way of the Arctic Ocean.
Among the 50 donors gathered around a U-shaped conference table for the event were meatpacking magnate John Miller, a close friend of Romney’s; oil investor L.E. Simmons; New York finance Chairman Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets; hedge fund manager Paul Singer; and Detroit businessman John Rakolta.... When Romney arrived, he took a seat at the head of the table, next to the other unofficial guests of honor: Adelson and his wife, Miriam.