By Will Dunham
(Reuters) – American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who built lavish gambling palaces that made him one of the world’s richest men and became a potent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has died at age 87.
Adelson, who headed the world’s largest casino company Las Vegas Sands, died on Monday night from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Las Vegas Sands said in a statement on Tuesday.
"In Las Vegas, Macao and Singapore, Mr. Adelson’s vision for integrated resorts transformed the industry, changed the trajectory of the company he founded, and reimagined tourism in each of those markets," the company said. "His impact on the industry will be everlasting."
A combative self-made man raised in a poor Jewish immigrant family in Boston, Adelson established hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore. His wealth made him a formidable figure in U.S. politics as he bankrolled Republicans including businessman-turned-politician Trump and fought Democrats. He also was a prominent supporter of Israel.
With a net worth of $33.4 billion as of this week, Adelson ranked as the world’s 38th richest person on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Adelson and his Israeli-born physician wife Miriam gave more than $218 million to Republican and conservative causes in the 2020 U.S. election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending, more than anyone else.
The Adelsons were prolific backers of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, spending $20 million on the campaign and then $5 million more for his inauguration, and remained supportive during his tumultuous presidency. The casino magnate was in regular contact with Trump after he took office and saw some of his cherished goals relating to Israel come to fruition including the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in a break with decades of American policy. Adelson attended the embassy dedication ceremony in May 2018.
"He crafted the course of nations. Some of the historical changes that he helped effect – in the United States, Israel and elsewhere – are publicly known," his widow, Miriam Adelson, said in a statement.
Known for his extensive philanthropy and business ventures in Israel and donations to Jewish causes, Adelson counted Netanyahu as a close friend. Adelson changed the Israeli media landscape in 2007 by launching Israel Hayom, a free right-wing daily newspaper that took a pro-Netanyahu line.
Israeli political commentators said Adelson played a role in persuading Trump to adopt policies in lockstep with Netanyahu, leading to the U.S. withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement, support for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and the transfer of the American Embassy to contested Jerusalem.
SON OF A CAB DRIVER
Adelson, a college dropout and the son of a cab driver, was short and stocky, had thinning red hair and in later years used a motorized scooter because of a medical condition that made it difficult to walk. But his appearance belied his clout and drive.
"I know that a lot of people think that guys like me succeed by stepping on the broken backs of employees and other people, but they don’t understand that we, too, have philosophies and ideals that we adhere to very scrupulously," Adelson said at a Las Vegas event in 2008, according to the New Yorker magazine.
His empire in the United States, Macau and Singapore was exemplified by the Venetian resort casino in Las Vegas, which boasted replicas of landmarks from Venice, Italy, like canals, the Rialto Bridge and the bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica. He filled his gambling hubs with trendy restaurants and shops, making them luxury destinations for business travelers and tourists alike.
In November 2018, Trump awarded Adelson’s wife the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a move critics assailed as a presidential "thank you" for the couple’s financial backing. During the White House ceremony, Trump hailed the Adelsons for protecting "the sacred heritage of the Jewish faith," placed the medal around her neck and kissed her on both cheeks.
Adelson also backed Republican U.S. President George W. Bush, then poured tens of millions of dollars into failed 2008 and 2012 efforts to defeat Democratic President Barack Obama.
Tributes to Adelson poured in after news of his death.
"He was an American patriot, a generous benefactor of charitable causes, and a strong supporter of Israel," Bush said in a statement.
Naftali Bennett, a former Israeli defense minister and currently head of the far-right Yamina party, said on Twitter that Adelson, was "a Jewish patriot who will be remembered for eternity in Israel."
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "Our nation lost a remarkable American with the passing of my friend Sheldon Adelson."
(Reporting by Will Dunham, Doina Chiacu, Steve Holland; editing by Louise Heavens and Howard Goller)