Las Vegas Sands announced Tuesday that Adelson died at 87 from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
He was the son of Jewish immigrants, raised with two siblings in a Boston tenement, who over the second half of his life became one of the world’s richest men. The chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. brought singing gondoliers to the Las Vegas Strip and predicted correctly that Asia would soon be an even bigger market. In 2018, Forbes ranked him No. 15 in the United States, worth an estimated $35.5 billion.
“If you do things differently, success will follow you like a shadow,” he stated during a 2014 talk to the gambling industry in Las Vegas.
Blunt yet secretive, the squatly-built Adelson resembled an old-fashioned political boss and stood apart from most American Jews, who for decades have supported Democrats by wide margins. Adelson was widely considered the nation’s most influential GOP donor over the final years of his life, at times setting records for individual contributions during a given election cycle.
In 2012, Politico named him “the dominant pioneer of the super PAC era.”
Adelson regularly hosted the party’s top strategists and most ambitious candidates at his modest office, wedged among the casinos on the Strip. Throughout, he helped ensure that support of Israel became a pillar of the GOP platform, never more visibly demonstrated than when the Trump administration relocated the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the year 2018.
More recently, he reportedly purchased the U.S. ambassador’s official residence near Tel Aviv for some $67 million.
When asked at a gambling conference what he hoped his legacy would be, Adelson replied that it wasn’t his glitzy casinos or hotels, it was his impact in Israel. He donated $25 million, a record sum for a private citizen, to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. He established a think tank in Jerusalem. He was closely aligned with the conservative Likud party and funded a widely-read free daily newspaper called “Israel Hayom,” or “Israel Today.”
In the United States, Adelson helped underwrite congressional trips to Israel, assisted in building a new headquarters for the lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and later was a top supporter of the Israeli-American Council, whose conferences have attracted top Republicans (Vice President Mike Pence) and Democrats (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi). He also sponsored “Birthright” trips to Israel for young Jewish adults.
Adelson was a late bloomer in business and in politics. He didn’t become a casino owner, or a Republican, until well into middle age.
“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” he told Forbes magazine in 2012. “But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it.”